The Obama administration appointed former Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) executive Kurt DelBene as senior advisor to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services. She is the person most blamed for the broken Healthcare.gov website. Whatever his title may be, DelBene has been charged with fixing the portal created for consumers who want to take advantage of President Obama’s great experiment in health care insurance. No matter what DelBene’s pedigree is, he comes to the repair efforts late.
Sebelius wants to convince the public, and her critics, that one person matters, at least when it comes to fixing a badly broken product of technology. The plans to make Healthcare.com work are already in place, so it is DelBene’s job to implement them, and implement them better that they have been so far. That job would appear to be well below the skills he brought to Microsoft as one of its most senior executives. Sebelius described the goals of her plan and DelBene’s place in them:
Kurt will execute the plan in place, so that we can ensure the site’s performance is strong through the close of open enrollment on March 31, 2014. This will include a focus on increasing system stability, redundancy and capacity, and building on improvements to the user interface, while continuing to prioritize security and privacy issues in line with industry best practices.
Americans should have hoped that, after weeks of ferreting out glitches, the process would be further along.
Healthcare.gov may be the most complex Internet e-commerce and service fulfillment program ever set up online. That means it is much more complicated than the entire infrastructure of the operations of Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) or eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY). Executives from many companies like these, who already have deep experience with Web operations like Healthcare.gov, have volunteered to make it work. Each of the offers has been turned down. DelBene must have abilities that these other experts do not.
The administration admitted, as it appointed DelBene, that a final solution to Healthcare.gov’s troubles is nowhere near implementation:
Kurt will work closely with me, the White House, and the teams and senior leadership in place at HHS and CMS to see this project through its next important phase as the CMS team continues to build on their initial progress. He has agreed to serve in this role for at least the first half of next year.
Does that mean a fully functional Healthcare.gov will not be in place until May or June? The announcement reads that way, which is odd, because the White House continues to say that a well-functioning system is only days, or at most, a week away.
So, what is DelBene’s role, anyway?