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White House Taps New Chief For Healthcare.gov

3:40 PM, Dec 17, 2013   |    comments
Photo: AP
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WASHINGTON -- Kurt DelBene, former president of the Microsoft Office Division, will replace Jeff Zients as the administration's point person on HealthCare.gov, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday.

"Jeff did an outstanding job working with our team to provide management advice and counsel on the HealthCare.gov project," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a blog post. "Today, the site is night and day from what it was when it launched on October 1."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama discussed the new appointment during his meeting today with a group of high-tech executives. DelBene will work with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

"He starts tomorrow," Carney said. He cited the appointee's background and experience: "He is uniquely suited to this task."

Zients came in after HealthCare.gov's dismal rollout Oct. 1 to fix the site. He quickly brought in outside technology experts to determine the problems, initiated software and hardware upgrades, and began daily briefings with the press so the public would understand what the government was doing to fix the problem. He promised the site would be operational by Nov. 30, and the government was able to reach that goal.

"Kurt will work closely with me, the White House, and the teams and senior leadership in place at HHS and CMS to see this project through its next important phase as the CMS team continues to build on their initial progress," Sebelius wrote. "He has agreed to serve in this role for at least the first half of next year."

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., praised the White House for appointing a long-term director of the project.

"Although Colorado's health exchange has not experienced the difficulties of HealthCare.gov, Mr. DelBene's appointment is a good step toward achieving the goal of giving all consumers - regardless of where they live - a functioning marketplace to find and compare health plans," Udall said.

Sebelius said several lawmakers, including Udall, had provided advice in the new appointment.

Sebelius said DelBene would provide oversight and advice on everything from technology to marketing, as well as execute the existing plan.

"The President and I believe strongly in having one person, with strong experience and expertise in management and execution, who is thinking 24/7 about HealthCare.gov," she wrote. He will continue to work with QSSI, the general contractor for HealthCare.gov.

The government also released statements from technology executives who have worked with DelBene in the past.

"Kurt is a talented and capable executive, with a track record of successfully managing complex large-scale technology projects," said Bill Gates, Microsoft's founder. "Working with Kurt over many years, I know him to be a passionate advocate for using technology to solve difficult problems at scale. I'm certain he'll make an important positive contribution in his new role with HHS."

DelBene stepped down from Microsoft in July as part of a reorganization announced by CEO Steve Ballmer, who then announced his own retirement in August.

DelBene's wife, Suzan, a Democratic U.S. House member from Washington state, is also a former Microsoft executive.

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