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Even before those numbers were released, the Obama administration's technology gurus faced a grilling today on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers wanted to know what went wrong with the HealthCare.gov software system. But as NPR's Elise Hu reports, some big questions went unanswered.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Healthcare.gov's issues have gotten various vettings before lawmakers now. But it was the first time for members of the House Oversight Committee to examine this very public technological failure.
REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: This was a monumental mistake to go live and effectively explode on the launch pad.
HU: That's committee chair Darrell Issa, the California Republican whose panel has, for the last month, investigated the missteps that led to a broken site.
ISSA: Whether you like Obamacare or not, taxpayer dollars were wasted, precious time was wasted, the American people's promise of Obamacare in fact does not exist today in a meaningful way.
HU: The site can now handle about 25,000 users at the same time. And that's much more than day one but still about half what U.S. chief technology officer Todd Park said the administration intended. He and other top government tech officials testified before lawmakers, assuring them engineers are making progress. Park used faster system response rates as an example.
TODD PARK: Just a few weeks ago, that rate was on average eight seconds across the system, which is totally unacceptable. It's now actually under a second today.
HU: The topic was tech but it didn't prevent political posturing, like this exchange started by Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper.
REPRESENTATIVE JIM COOPER: I believe in fairness and the American people do not want to see a kangaroo court here.
HU: Chairman Issa was quick to respond.
ISSA: Kangaroo courts...
COOPER: By using...
ISSA: ...is quite an accusation. And I hope the gentleman of Tennessee when he uses the term kangaroo court in the future will think better of making an accusation.
HU: When they got beyond the political theater, lawmakers pressed witnesses on why stress testing on the entire technology system didn't happen. Why the agency overseeing the rollout underestimated user volume and security risks. And why contractors make so much money for sub par services, as Tennessee Republican John Duncan pointed out.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN DUNCAN: What I'm more concerned about is all the sweetheart insider deals that government contractors get under these programs, and all the people and companies that are getting filthy rich.
HU: Whether it was contractors to blame or agency officials, Ohio Republican Jim Jordan just wanted to know who was supposed to be calling the shots.
REPRESENTATIVE JIM JORDAN: Who is the IT person? Is that Mr. Van Roekel? Is that Mr. Park? Is it Mr. Chao? Which of you is that person?
PARK: I don't know. I didn't speak to the president.
JORDAN: No, but he refers to a person. Who would it be? Who is the IT person in charge?
HU: Whoever he was looking for wasn't sitting before him. In short, the day-long panel didn't reveal new problems that aren't already on the punch list of fixes. The administration pledges to have the site functional by the end of this month. Witnesses say the work on the system will never really end. As they move forward major questions remain.
Again, Representative Duncan.
DUNCAN: Does anybody know? If we've spent 600 million already and it's not working, does anybody have any idea how much all this is going to cost us in the end?
HU: That's a question the witnesses couldn't answer.
DUNCAN: Nobody knows?
HU: Elise Hu, NPR News, Washington.
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