After a series of failed attempts, back steps and delays to launch Cover Oregon, the state's troubled health insurance exchange, Carolyn Lawson, CIO of the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services, has announced her resignation due to personal reasons.
According to an article from The Oregonian, the announcement was made on Dec. 19 in an email message to staff from Tina Edlund, the acting OHA director. The newspaper reported last week that in an email to administration officials, Lawson said her departure was caused by the recent death of her mother-in-law, which prompted her to resign as opposed to taking temporary bereavement leave.
What's still unclear is what part the website’s troubled development played in her decision to depart. Lawson, who was hired in 2011, has been criticized heavily for her site management and development decisions, which have cost $160 million so far -- without any product to show for it. In addition, the site’s delay has required hiring more than 400 additional staff to handle insurance processing tasks while the state waits for the site to become functional.
Carolyn Lawson, former CIO, Oregon Health Authority. Photo via Twitter
Key among the many criticisms against Lawson was her decision to place the state in charge of the technical management instead of contracting a private-sector systems integrator who specialized in such complex projects.
Equally significant were complaints against Lawson for not establishing a fixed-cost contract with developers and upholding a contract with Oracle, a California-based IT company, that provided the bulk of the site work. The company has been noted for its poor service on the site and for continually failing to meet the project's deadlines, the most recent of which was for the site’s completion on Oct. 1.
Despite both public and internal criticism, Lawson has continued to defend Oracle and her decision not to hire outside help.
“Let's be honest about this, there is no evidence that having a systems integrator is a slam-dunk path to success," she said earlier this month. "There are plenty of IT projects that have gone horribly wrong that had a systems integrator.”
Following her resignation, Lawson has not responded to the press for inquiries. And, as shown in a broadcast by Oregon television station KATU, on Dec. 20 Lawson walked away from a reporter who’d approached her at her home with questions about the resignation and her personal relationship with Oracle.
The station was investigating how impartial Lawson’s relationship really was. Lawson had praised the company in both a press release and within an Oracle company publication that featured her.
“The Oracle team helped us see the issues philosophically before we approached the practical aspects of the project,” she said in the November 2012 Oracle publication of Profit.
As a result of Lawson’s exit, Cover Oregon Director Bruce Goldberg will now be managing day-to-day operations on the website’s continued construction. Meanwhile, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has ordered an independent review of site’s development effort for a search of missteps.