Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, the House GOP's mangy attack dog, has squandered his chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform trying to embarrass the Obama administration over a host of ginned-up purported scandals. The IRS, Benghazi--you know the list.
Democrats try to push back against Issa's scandal-mongering, but it's doubtful anyone has done so as directly and succinctly as Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who fired back last month with a letter ridiculing Issa for his habit of conducting investigations as exercises in "ready, fire, aim."
At issue were Issa's allegations that a host of state health insurance enrollment websites were vulnerable to hackers.
"The personal information of millions of Americans who have sought to obtain coverage through the exchanges was put at risk" by the Obama administration's decision to launch enrollment under the Affordable Care Act on Oct. 1, wrote Issa and two other Republican committee members. Their point was that the White House allowed several state health insurance exchanges to tie in to federal databases without being properly vetted for security.
Their March 25 letters went out to the governors of 10 states and to the District of Columbia, demanding information about their state websites' security flaws and accusing some of squandering federal funds to set up their websites. Hawaii, they charged, spent $205 million in federal grants to enroll just 5,000 customers, at $44,000 per enrollee.
Um, not so fast, replied Abercrombie. "Your letter is full of mistakes, misrepresentations, omissions, and false assertions....Because of your flawed assumptions and mistakes, you have predictably reached erroneous conclusions. With a little due diligence, you and your committee staffers could easily have avoided these errors."
Most of that grant money hadn't yet been spent at all, Abercrombie said. Only $23 million went to set up the Hawaii insurance website, which as of March 31 had enrolled 30,400 individuals and families, of whom about 22,000 have gone into Medicaid. As state officials pointed out, Hawaii's proportion of uninsured residents, 8%, was already among the lowest in the nation, so its insurance website was never expected to be a major portal for private coverage. As for its supposed insecurity, the exchange hasn't had a single security breach since going live on Oct. 15.
Issa's committee didn't respond to our request for information on responses from the other states--Abercrombie's office confirmed the text of his letter--but Covered California, this state's Obamacare exchange, says it also replied. Its letter is here. Contrary to Issa's assertions that the California website was insecure and vulnerable to hackers, Covered California stated that its site had completed all necessary security testing before getting permission to connect to the federal government's data system.
What's most telling about Issa's letters--and most typical--is that they haven't led to any useful "oversight" by his committee. Then again, they weren't really aimed at developing information that might point to and remedy a genuine problem of governmental administration. Instead, they were designed to make a big splash with conservative news outlets, which obligingly trumpeted Issa's accusations at high volume.
But when the responses indicated that the issues Issa identified didn't exist, he dropped the subject. At least, that's how it appears; both Hawaii and California say they never heard a peep from Issa's committee after returning their responses in the first week of April.
The committee did hold a hearing on "ObamaCare's Problem-filled state exchanges" on April 3--eight days after sending out the letters to the states and Washington, D.C., and obviously not enough time to incorporate any responses. The essence, in other words, of "ready, fire, aim."
In any event, the witnesses, who included Covered California's executive director, Peter Lee, and the Hawaii exchange's director, Tom Matsuda, tended to focus in their statements on their efforts to enroll their states' citizens. Issa's team must not have appreciated the witnesses' failure to comply with his agenda, because we've heard nothing about the topic since then.