Did we just witness our first firing over Healthcare.gov?

November 6, 2013

(Healthcare.gov)

A federal official who oversaw the rollout of President Obama's signature health law is stepping down.

Tony Trenkle, chief information officer at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will leave the agency next week and take a job in the private sector, according to an internal agency e-mail late Tuesday.

Trenkle's job included managing $2 billion in agency spending on IT projects — including the Web site that has frustrated countless Americans looking to sign up for health insurance.

Michelle Snyder, CMS's chief operating officer, thanked Trenkle in the e-mail for his seven years of service and wished him luck. CMS officials would not say on a conference call with reporters whether Trenkle had been forced out over the Obamacare Web site issues.

Trenkle is a former NASA intern who's spent much of his career building technology solutions for the government. His portfolio includes projects for the Social Security Administration and the General Services Administration. In March, he told the CGI Initiative for Collaborative Government that what the health care industry needed were more robust standards:

Measuring the success of health reform focuses on data, Trenkle said, and CMS will be inundated with new types of information as that reform gains momentum. “For health reform to succeed, we need good data to make better decisions — whether you are changing how you make payments, measure quality or improve health care coordination.”

Since the insurance portal's launch, however, it's been overwhelmed by visitors. A vulnerability that allowed attackers to grab personal user information wasn't patched until late last month. And the Obama administration won't disclose how many people have successfully signed up for insurance.

Heads were inevitably going to roll. But in the past few weeks, what's held that back has been confusion over who to blame — the contractors? An agency chief?

"Hold me accountable," said Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius before the Senate last week.

So far, Sebelius has kept her job. The same can't be said of Tony Trenkle.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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