Tony Trenkle: The HealthCare.gov official who stepped down

November 7, 2013
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HealthCare.gov may have claimed its first casualty from the Obama administration: a veteran official who helped oversee development of the federal government’s glitch-ridden online insurance exchange.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) said on Wednesday that Tony Trenkle, the agency’s top technology executive, will step down on Nov. 15 “to take a position in the private sector.” CMS Chief Operating Officer Michelle Snyder delivered the news in an e-mail to employees.

As part of his duties, Trenkle was in charge of determining whether private information entered into the exchange system would be safe from hackers and identity thieves. An inspector general’s report released in August said CMS had delayed the deadline for making that decision until the eve of the site’s launch.

“If there are additional delays in completing the security authorization package, [Trenkle] may not have a full assessment of system risks and security controls needed for the security authorization” in time for the rollout, the report said.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)
(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

CMS technology officials warned that the system as a whole had never been tested for security problems, creating a “level of uncertainty that can be deemed as high risk for [the federal exchange].” In a memo, IT managers Henry Chao and James Kerr recommended a six-month regimen of regular testing for the site.

CMS chief Marilyn Tavenner approved the plan on Sept. 27, and the site launched five days later on Oct. 1, falling apart almost immediately.

More on HealthCare.gov: How political fear was pitted against technical needs

During congressional testimony last month, lawmakers pressed contractors for names of officials who served as the points of contact for HealthCare.gov’s development.  CGI Federal senior vice president Cheryl Campbell identified several: Snyder, Chao and “Peter Oh,” an apparent reference to Mark Oh, the director of Medicare’s Health Insurance Marketplace division.

The announcement on Wednesday didn’t mention the employment status of Tavenner, Chao or Oh, but it said CMS Deputy Director Tim Love would serve as Snyder’s new No. 2. In the e-mail, Snyder said she was “grateful for the dedication and expertise” that Love and Trenkle have brought the agency through their years of service.

The personnel moves this week raise questions about who, if anyone, will be the next to depart from CMS in the wake of HealthCare.gov’s failed start. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy-Ann DeParle, the former White House’s healthcare-reform director, are the two highest-level officials who would be among the vulnerable.

President Obama showed a strong preference for DeParle to serve as health-reform “czar” when his top aides were debating in 2010 over whether he should appoint an administration insider who helped guide the Affordable Care Act through the legislative process during the law’s development and passage or someone from the private-sector.

DeParle is no longer with the administration. She left for the world of private equity in August, joining the New York-based firm Consonance Capital Partners.

As for Sebelius, she told a House committee last week: “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.”

(CORRECTION: A previous version of this article may have left the impression that DeParle still serves with the Obama administration. It has been updated to reflect the fact that she left for the private sector in August.)

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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