Obama's top tech on House panel hot seat

WASHINGTON — Todd Park, the nation's chief technology officer, is the top tech expert in the U.S. government and the face of President Barack Obama's effort to bring the federal bureaucracy into the iPad era.

The onetime entrepreneur, a 40-year-old wunderkind with two startups in his rearview mirror, is a Silicon Valley success story. But House Republicans are seeking to add a new chapter by forcing him to answer for one of the nation's highest-profile technology debacles: the flawed federal health insurance website.

Park was subpoenaed to testify Wednesday before a House committee investigating the flawed website. Late Tuesday, a White House spokesman said he would appear.

The White House has said that Park played little role in developing HealthCare.gov, the centerpiece of the president's health law, and said his time was better spent helping to fix it.

But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, demanded Park take a seat at the witness table, saying lawmakers deserve a technical explanation for why the website does not work, when it will work and whether personal data is secure.

Park also drew attention because he offered an early — but inaccurate — explanation for the website's error messages, blank pages and slow loading times. “These bugs were functions of volume,” Park told USA Today. “Take away the volume and it works.”

The fight over Park and his role highlights an irony in the drama over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The administration's most prominent technology officials were not put in charge of the legacy-making, top-priority endeavor.

Park is one of two such officials working to repair the site by the end of the month. Jeffrey Zients, who was the first U.S. chief performance officer, another title borrowed from corporate America, was brought in to oversee the rehab. Before joining the White House, Zients founded and was the managing partner of an investment firm.

As for Park, he is putting in 18-hour days with an ad hoc team of programmers. The former health IT expert and Harvard-educated economist is familiar with such characters.

So it is not surprising that tech professionals have rallied behind Park. Friends worry he could become a scapegoat and started a website — lettoddwork.org — to protest what its signatories suspect is an attempt to derail Obama's health care overhaul law.

Technology officers in the administration “have been positioned perfectly to take the fall for stuff like this,” said Clay Johnson, a tech entrepreneur who worked with Park while on a White House fellowship in 2012.

The hearing comes as the White House weighs changes to the law in response to the outcry over insurance plans that have been canceled because of new regulations. On Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton said Obama should make sure Americans can retain their current health insurance plans.

“I personally believe, even if it takes a change to the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they've got,” Clinton told OZY, a news website.

Park arrived in the Obama administration in 2009 after co-founding Athenahealth, a health care technology company that made him a fortune.

Aneesh Chopra, Obama's original chief technology officer, and others persuaded Park to take the job as chief technology officer in the Health and Human Services Department.

One of the first projects was the forerunner of HealthCare.gov, a website that made available an enormous amount of government health care data. Park also helped launch a website to make it easier for small businesses to bid on government contracts. And he helped open up access to government databases, a move that fueled startups relying on the data.

That success helped Park land his post as chief technology officer, after Chopra left in March.

As Chopra's successor, Park's job was to serve as White House liaison to agencies working on high-priority tech projects, administration spokesman Eric Schultz said.

But peers say Park wasn't in charge of getting HealthCare.gov ready.


Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World