Some call it a witch hunt; other’s say it’s a matter of accountability. Either way, it appears sooner rather than later, White House CTO Todd Park will find himself testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives for his efforts in fixing Healthcare.gov.
After two previous requests were declined by the White House, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has subpoenaed Park to testify on Wednesday for his leadership role in attempting to fix Healthcare.gov.
Park follows Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was subpoenaed by Issa on Oct. 31 for documentation on the site, which has failed to enroll applicants in health-care insurance plans linked to the Affordable Care Act, legislation that will require most Americans to have health insurance by 2014.
According to a Reuters article, Donna Pignatelli, assistant director for legislative affairs in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said Park has been willing to meet with Issa’s staff informally in late November, after the site’s deadline for functionality on Nov. 30, and is also willing to testify within the first two weeks of December.
"Because Mr. Park is currently occupied full time on the critically important work of improving the website for the millions of Americans seeking affordable health insurance options, his testimony needs to be scheduled at a time that is less disruptive to that work," Pignatelli said in a letter responding to Issa.
Despite the White House's call for Park’s continued work on the site, Issa is unlikely to overturn his subpoena, seeing the delay as a lack of transparency and accountability. In his letter to Park, Reuters recorded Issa rebuffing Park for his willingness to speak with The New York Times and not government officials.
"You are the only invited witness who remains unwilling to appear voluntarily. … I am left with no choice but to compel your appearance,” Issa wrote in his letter to Park.
The conflict has been gaining momentum as advocates on both sides of the issue have become more vocal -- most notably, Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Gerald Connolly, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Government Operations.
In a letter to Issa, the two denounced Issa’s subpoena as “unnecessary and misguided” while at the same time underlining Park’s need to remain focused on the “lion’s share” of the site fixes.
“The evidence before our committee demonstrates that Mr. Park is an honest and exemplary public servant, and your unsubstantiated public attacks against his integrity are a deficient basis on which to justify a subpoena against him,” the representatives wrote.
The letter also criticized Issa for commentary made on Fox News where he labeled Park’s work on the site as “a pattern of interference and false statements.”
In the Fox interview, Issa alleged Park knew beforehand that the site could not handle the amount of visitors that would potentially use it.
“This was a still-born site, which means this was a failure to launch that they knew about on Sept. 30 and went ahead anyway,” Issa said, referring to an early capacity test that identified the total number of visitors that could access the site at a given time as 1,100.
Cummings and Connolly wrote in their statement that Issa had misunderstood previous user capacity reports for the site, and that according to Henry Chao, deputy CIO of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, final pre-launch visitor estimates were much higher at around 58,000 users.
Social Media Help
As further support for Park, a new social media campaign site, titled Let Todd Work
, has been created to advocate Park’s continued focus on Healthcare.gov. The site, as of Tuesday afternoon, has gained the support of more than 1,200 people via Facebook and Twitter.
According to The Atlantic
, the site was launched by two White House innovation fellows, Clay Johnson and Adam Becker, and former White House art director Michael Aleo. On its home page is a statement crediting Park for his past IT initiatives such as the Health Data Initiative, a program designed to use health information for potential IT applications, and Park’s Blue Button initiative that provided a way for companies and organizations to offer patient’s access to their health records.
“Now, instead of continuing to fix Healthcare.gov (a mess he did not make),” the statement reads, “Mr. Park has to spend his hours preparing for his testimony.”
Prior to his post as the White House deputy CTO, Park co-founded Athenahealth, a health IT company, and also co-founded Castlight, a Web-based health-care shopping service for consumers. In health policy issues, Park was a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he focused on health IT and health reform policy.