The nation's former head of technology policy finally appeared Wednesday to answer questions at a House hearing on the botched ObamaCare website launch -- and claimed it wasn't his job to know about specific technical issues.
Todd Park, the former chief technology officer of the U.S., left House Republicans frustrated when he said he knew little about security problems involving Healthcare.gov or allegations that bosses at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversaw the project, bullied beleaguered tech workers into rolling out healthcare.gov prematurely. Park acknowledged problems with the rollout, but said he was not involved with "day-in, day-out" operations and details.
"What are you hiding, Mr. Park?" Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., a physician and member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, asked Park, who had been reluctant to tell lawmakers what he knew and when he knew it about the weeks before and after the botched introduction of the website.
The committee subpoenaed Park to testify after obtaining emails that may have indicated he knew about security concerns with the website before its problem-plagued launch in October 2013. In one, Michelle Snyder, the then-chief technology officer at CMS, wrote Park in September, 2013, expressing concerns about security and painting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner as a tantrum-throwing, demanding boss who vowed the website would launch on time "no matter what."
At the hearing, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, repeatedly questioned Park about security issues regarding the site, but Park characterized his role as advisory, at one point referring Smith to CMS.
"I’m not an expert in this arena," Park said. "That’s not the area where I really concentrated my role."
When Smith pressed him further about whether it is safe for Americans to enter sensitive information onto the site in order to sign up for benefits, Park replied, "Yes, I think it is secure."
The website, which cost more than $500 million to build, was launched on Oct. 1, 2013, but quickly became bogged down in a host of problems, including massive cost overruns, crashes and security breaches. Last summer, the Government Accountability Office released a non-partisan study that concluded the administration did not provide "effective planning or oversight practices" in developing the ObamaCare website.
Repeatedly, Park acknowledged the rollout troubles, but downplayed his role in managing personnel issues.
"I was not a project manger managing the day-in and day-out of health care.gov," said Park, who resigned in August of this year to take up a new post as a technology adviser for the administration based in Silicon Valley.
Democrats on the committee downplayed Park's alleged culpability, repeatedly insisting that Park was a "patriot" who voluntarily left the private sector to help the country and that his claims of not knowing specific technical problems were believable, as it wasn't his job to know technology -- his role was to introduce IT across the wide spectrum of government.
GOP lawmakers' frustration showed as Park continued to insist that his role did not involve close oversight of the website. Several pointed out that as President Obama's point man on his signature achievement, Park was obligated to know what was happening.
"I did not have really have deep detailed knowledge prior to Oct. 1," Park responded to a question from Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc. Moments later, another member of the panel appeared exasperated with Park's cheery insistence of ignorance regarding the site's myriad problems.
"There you go being disingenuous again," thundered Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio.
Johnson told Park that as the nation's chief technical officer "appointed by the president," he could not disavow responsibility for or knowledge of the website's problems.
"You can’t delegate accountability," Johnson said. "Did you ever tell the president that you had concerns about the security?”
Park replied that in his role, "cybersecurity operations hadn’t been a focus.”
In the e-mail from Snyder to Park, Snyder implied that Tavenner had threatened her job if Snyder was unable to deliver.
“Just so you know (Tavenner) decided in January we were going no matter what,” Snyder wrote. “Hence the really cruel and uncaring march that has occurred since January when she threatened me with a demotion or forced retirement if I didn’t take this on.”
Snyder's e-mail,it proved prophetic when she announced her retirement just a few months after writing Park and after allegedly warning Tavenner of the risks of launching the site before it was ready.
“Do you really think (Tavenner) has enough understanding of the risks to fight for a delay --- no and hell no,” Snyder wrote in the e-mail. “I appreciate you (sic) belief in the goodness of others but at this point I am too tired to pretend that there is a decision to be made - it is just how much crap my team will have to take if it isn’t sufficiently successful – you haven’t lived through the temper tantrums and threats of the last 9 months.”