Unbelievable incompetence led to no-bid contract for healthcare.gov

It appears that management of the rollout of healthcare.gov was delegated to the Keystone Kops, the famous symbols of comic incompetence created by Mack Sennett. A level of ineptitude that surely must be termed negligence has led to at least one no-bid contract as CMS leadership discovered at the last minute that they had forgotten one crucial piece of the project. Sharon Begley of Reuters reports:

Caught flat-footed by the challenges of building the financial-management and accounting parts of the U.S. government's new online marketplace for health insurance, officials rushed to hire a familiar contractor without seeking competing bids, according to government procurement documents reviewed by Reuters.

The documents dated in August - less than two months before the opening of online marketplaces established by President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law - showed the agency in charge had only "recently learned" that building the financial management functions was "beyond (its) currently available resources."

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) documents shed more light on the problems facing the agency as it worked on the marketplaces established by the law commonly called Obamacare and on its revelation this week that at least 30 percent of the marketplace is still being built.

Those problems and others have been revealed by congressional oversight investigators who released emails and outside reports that paint an administration scrambling to meet the technological challenges of the marketplace - and usually failing to do so.

Suddenly realizing that you can't manage the finance and accounting aspects of the program is somewhat like a contractor erecting a skyscraper and suddenly realizing that it hadn't competently excavated the foundation. In toher words, the whole edifice is at risk of collapse in both cases.

You can tell how embarrassing and revealing this is by the fact that nobody is willing to speak on the record. Begley writes:

CMS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said on Friday and on Saturday that representatives of the agency were unavailable to comment on the contract or on an estimate of when the financial management part of the marketplace is expected to be finished.

The awardee of the no-bid contract is a company called Novitas, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. They too aree speaking to the press:

Asked about how Novitas was awarded the contract and the work it is doing, Florida Blue spokesman Mark Wright said a company official told him, "We're not going to be able to get into this right now."

Even less comforting is the fact that the Canadian company that screwed iup the website in the first place is keeping its hand in, too:

The lead contractor on HealthCare.gov, the U.S. subsidiary of Canada's CGI Group Inc, is also involved in building the financial management piece of the marketplace, a company official said.

Any company which screwed up a key product introduction this badly would fire its chief executive. It's a shame the same remedy does not apply in the public sector. As Clarice Feldman suggests today, the nuclear option detonated in the Senate is probably the death warrant for Kathleen Sibelius's tenure at Health and Human Services, because it will no longer require 60 votes to confirm her successor. In the Obama administration, the buck stops well short of the Oval Office.