Can an ex-Microsoft guy cure HealthCare.gov?
The Obama administration on Tuesday put a former top Microsoft executive in charge of HealthCare.gov, the troubled website serving 36 states’ insurance-buying marketplaces.
Insert your joke about Obamacare’s blue screen of death here.
Seriously, one has to hope the new guy -- Kurt DelBene, former head of the Microsoft Office Division -- brings only a portion of Microsoft’s heritage along with him. Aside from the XBox, the software giant isn’t known for great consumer experiences. Its products have been maddeningly complex and notoriously buggy, at least in their early versions. Kind of like HealthCare.gov!
On the other hand, the Office line of products -- especially Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint -- are now rock solid. And DelBene oversaw the successful development of a Web-based version of Office, a daunting but commercially crucial transformation of those products into subscription services.
His former boss, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, praised DelBene in a statement Tuesday that highlighted how well DelBene’s skills fit the administration’s needs.
“Kurt is a talented and capable executive, with a track record of successfully managing complex, large-scale technology projects,” Gates says in the statement (emphasis mine). “Working with Kurt over many years, I know him to be a passionate advocate for using technology to solve difficult problems at scale. He brings deep expertise as a manager and engineer to his new responsibilities.”
Clearly, HealthCare.gov could have used someone with those skills months before it went live, disastrously, on Oct. 1. The managerial whiz that the administration brought in after the fact -- Jeffrey Zients, a former deputy director of management at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget -- seems to have put out many of the fires at the site over the last two months. But many of the administration’s allies have pushed for someone outside the Beltway and inside the tech industry to oversee the site’s ongoing repair and improvement.
DelBene, who stepped down at Microsoft during a major reorganization early this year, appears to fit that bill, even though he’s not exactly apolitical. His wife is Rep. Susan DelBene (D-Wash.), a freshman member of Congress.
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