Cover Oregon head: State might scrap all or part of failing website

Cover Oregon head: State might scrap all or part of failing website
SALEM, Ore. – Was it all for nothing?
 
Interim Cover Oregon head Bruce Goldberg said Wednesday that while his team is making progress on fixing a flood of problems with the health exchange’s foundering website, it might ultimately have to scrap all or part of a system in which two years and tens of millions of dollars have been invested.
 
Goldberg testified Wednesday morning before the Joint Committee on Legislative Audits, Information Management and Technology.
 
“It’s no secret to anybody in this room or in this state that we don’t have a fully functioning website,” Goldberg said, the first in a long series of admissions that there are major problems with the site.
 
Goldberg said when he took over for former director Rocky King last month the site had 48 critical errors. That number is now down to 13.
 
Still, Goldberg said that the state will decide in the next month or two whether to begin incorporating a system used either by other states or the one used by the federal government.
 
“We need to start looking at – beyond March – what are our contingencies,” Goldberg said. “Be that other state systems or parts of the federal system to help with open enrollment. I don’t think we are at the point in time to make that decision, but we need to begin to make that plan.”
 
Goldberg said if the decision is made to move on, the state will try to leverage parts of the current system to avoid completely wasting a program in which the federal government initially invested $48 million.
 
Later, in a hearing before the House Interim Committee on Health Care, Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, called for an end to Cover Oregon.
 
"This is the most embarrassing train wreck I've ever seen," Conger said. "I’ve lost all faith in Cover Oregon. I’ve lost all faith in the website I think Cover Oregon’s credibility with the public has been damaged irreparably, meaning they’re not gonna sign up.
 
"All of these things lead one to the conclusion that perhaps it’s time to throw in the towel."
 
Conger - who is running for the Senate seat occupied by Jeff Merkley - is at least the second lawmaker to call for an end to the exchange in the last week. Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, do so last week.
 
Legislators also tried to pin Goldberg down on why the public wasn’t notified sooner that the site was likely to fail.
 
“What I’m trying to figure out, and it’s just driving me a little bit crazy – when I met with Rocky King, he told me that they knew for sure the system would not be operating Oct. 1 in early August,” said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin. “What I’m trying to really understand is why there wasn’t an overt message that this system is not going to be operating, that we’re going to have alternatives.
 
“I’m trying to figure out why someone didn’t come forward and say ‘the emperor has no clothes.’”
 
Goldberg said that while he was aware of problems with the website, he had been assured by King and former CIO Carolyn Lawson that they would be mitigated in time for launch.
 
From its inception the project was beset by red flags from independent auditor Maximus. The assessments, which turned out to accurately predict the website’s failure, were all sent to Goldberg in his former role as the head of the Oregon Health Authority.
 
After the meeting, KATU Investigators asked Goldberg why he didn’t pay closer attention to the Maximus reports - the history of which KATU Investigators recently detailed - and why he didn’t try to intervene sooner if he was aware of the problems.
 
“There was always a high degree of risk – that was always a part of the process,” Goldberg said. “There was never an indication the site wouldn’t be able to launch, until Sept. 28.”
 
Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, asked “How many people at Cover Oregon have been fired or otherwise held accountable for their bungling?"
 
Goldberg avoided the question, saying he was accountable and that an independent assessment that will be performed by a company called First Data will look at who’s responsible. He later acknowledged nobody has been fired, saying “you’ll have to talk to their department heads.”
 
Cover Oregon CIO Aaron Karjala also answered questions and gave a technical assessment of where the project sits. 
 
When Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, asked whether the site was hacker-proof, Karjala said it is still undergoing rigorous testing.
 
“I’m sorry you answered the question that way, because the first thing we should’ve done is make sure it was hacker-proof,” Olsen said. “We’re asking people to give out very sensitive information.”
 
Goldberg also said the 400 workers the state has hired to process paper applications in the interim cost about $3.3 million through Jan. 1, which will be split by OHA and Cover Oregon. 
 
He said while Lawson was partially to blame –“I think we all share that disappointment,” he said – some of the fault also lies with Oracle, the company the state hired to provide software and technical expertise. He said Cover Oregon is currently withholding $28 million from Oracle until the website is functioning.
 
At the beginning of the hearing, new Oregon CIO Alex Pettit – who will be tasked with righting the Cover Oregon ship and ensuring the state doesn’t mismanage future IT projects - was introduced to the committee. 
 
“My sympathies to you,” Devlin said.

 Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: