HHS HealthCare.gov Official: “Delete this email”

An email obtained by Congress shows the top official for Healthcare.gov at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Department of Health and Human Services, Marilyn Tavenner, instructed the agency’s top spokesman to “Please delete this email.”

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner

The instruction appears significant for several reasons: First, the email to be deleted included an exchange between key White House officials and CMS  officials. Second, the email was dated October 5, 2013, five days into the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov. Third, federal law requires federal officials to retain copies of –not delete– email exchanges. And fourth, the document to be deleted is covered under Congressional subpoena as well as longstanding Freedom of Information requests made by members of the media (including me).

In a letter today, House Energy and Commerce leaders asked Tavenner to explain why she asked her colleague to delete the email, and the letter questions whether there are other instances in which she instructed HHS staff to delete emails. The letter also asks for more details regarding Congressional subpoenaed documents, including Tavenner emails, that CMS recently said might be permanently lost; and it requests an explanation as to why redactions are made in some documents provided to Congress so far.

Jeanne Lambrew, White House health care policy advisor. Photo courtesy: Univ. of Texas

Jeanne Lambrew, White House health care policy advisor. Photo courtesy: Univ. of Texas

The meaning of the Tavenner email that she wanted deleted, and the reason why she issued the instruction, isn’t clear. Those copied on the email exchange to be deleted include: Jeanne Lambrew, Obama’s Director of the White House Office of Health Reform. Previously, emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee indicated Lambrew exchanged confidential taxpayer information on organizations with IRS official Sarah Hall Ingram and White House health policy advisor Ellen Montz. White House visitor logs indicate that Lambrew also hosted the vast majority of Ingram’s 165 White House visits. The IRS has been found by independent overseers to have  improperly targeted and harassed conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. (Incidentally, the IRS has notified Congress that, like HHS, it has “lost” emails responsive to Congressional subpoena).

White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park

White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park

Other names included on the email to be deleted are: White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, White House advisor on health care Christopher Jennings, and other HHS and CMS officials.

“[N]ow we know that when HealthCare.gov was crashing, those in charge were hitting the delete button behind the scenes,” said Energy and Commerce chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).

Last week, I sued HHS over its lack of response to my FOI requests regarding HealthCare.gov. Federal officials routinely fail to comply with FOI law. The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch is assisting with the lawsuit. Judicial Watch has had success in its FOI lawsuits against both the Bush and Obama administrations.

There appears to be no down side for federal officials when they flout FOI law to delay and obfuscate. Even in the relatively rare instances in which they are sued, they pay the legal bills with your tax dollars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “HHS HealthCare.gov Official: “Delete this email””

  1. Jeanne Manton
    October 19, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    I wrote this up for my liberal neighbor LAST October. He is a retired actuary so that is why the reference is in there. I had also worked for 25 years as Sales/Systems Support for another insurance company so I thought I had him! He deleted the email and tore up the paper copy.

    This was square one for a not well thought out ideology.

    ***************************************************************************************************************

    CMS, a Canadian company, was on the cutting edge of user programming interface with two products that found great acceptance in the US business market in 1990:
    WORDPERFECT, a document creator
    2020, a spreadsheet

    Unfortunately WordPerfect was heavily encoded and had a sharp learning curve but it worked very well with HTML, the base code for web pages.
    2020, on the other hand, was too simplistic and not able to handle complicated i.e.actuarial formulae.
    Both were very compatible with mainframe applications and the cgi scripts programmers of the decade could use.
    Enter MICROSOFT and the PC users. The document application WORD and the spreadsheet EXCEL filled the niche for user friendly interface.
    What happened to CMS? They created a company named CGI and went after the health care business in Canada with the security of the knowledge that their heavily encoded applications guaranteed proprietary rights. Was Canada happy with their healthcare application. A resounding NO. Costs were astronomically increased for poor services. Same thing with the German healthcare system, a fairly large market. Continuous problems that only CGI could fix. Belgium, a smaller market, again a poorly functioning system with continuous high costs.
    Now why would the US choose a foreign provider with wretched track record and was not even the lowest bidder by far?
    Uhh, David Axelrod, the presidents advisor, is taking a highly lucrative job with CMS and Valerie Jarrett’s daughter is married to a CGI executive.

    Coincidence?

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