Kelly Kennedy, Jon Swartz and Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - An engineer from technology giant Google has been recruited to help fix HealthCare.gov, the new federal insurance exchange website.
Software companies Red Hat and Oracle will also assist, according to Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which has coordinated the development of the site that has experienced numerous problems in its first month of operations.
"As part of the 'Tech Surge,' we've added key personnel from the government and private sector, including expert engineers and technology managers," Bataille wrote in a blog item posted Thursday. "These dozens of people are strengthening and reinforcing the team we have working 24/7 to address the problems around HealthCare.gov."
During a question-and-answer session at Oracle's shareholders' meeting today, CEO Larry Ellison said the database giant "thinks it is our responsibility as a technology provider in the technology industry to serve all of our customers, and the federal government is one of our customers, so we are helping them in every way we can."
"Most of us want to see our government operating efficiently and effectively, and it is incumbent upon us to help them do that," Ellison said.
Michael Dickerson, a site reliability engineer at Google, has taken leave to help rid the federal exchange of its glitches. Greg Gershman, a former Presidential Innovation Fellow and Baltimore software engineer, will help with creating better user experiences.
As a fellow, Gershman worked to make it easier for outsiders, rather than government employees, to navigate the 1,200 websites with federal government information.
Dickerson is working with QSSI, the general contractor coordinating the fixes to the site, Bataille wrote. Gershman is working with CGI Federal, the site's largest contractor, "to improve HealthCare.gov's performance, and helping the development process be more agile so HealthCare.gov can release improvements more rapidly," Bataille wrote.
White House meeting
Thursday's announcement came as a frustrated group of Senate Democrats vented their ongoing concerns about the rollout during a private meeting with White House officials, including chief of staff Denis McDonough, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, and Jeffrey Zients, whom President Obama tapped to fix the problems with HealthCare.gov.
"I'm extraordinarily frustrated," said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. "I don't think there's confidence from anyone in the room. This is more a show-me moment."
Merkley said there is support from senators like himself for extending the enrollment period to make up for the glitch-riddled rollout.
"Many of us feel there has to be a sufficient window for citizens to be able to exercise their judgment in signing up," Merkley said, "Citizens need to have that window. If there is this kind of delay on the front end, I certainly am advocating that we need to extend the window on the back end."
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said he could also support a short-term extension for a few weeks to make up for the first three-to-four weeks of enrollment. "I don't think we need to go further than that." Begich also stressed that citizens are not being prevented from signing up. "Right now if people want to apply, they can," he said.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said the White House officials assured wary senators that the site would be fully operational by the Nov. 30 target. "The administration has a plan," Durbin said. "They're taking the basic architecture of this and improving it and trying to make up for some of the problems that they've had."
McDonough was tight-lipped when asked if they successfully assuaged Democrats' concerns. "I think we had a really good discussion," he said.
Merkley was more candid. "We were all confident the system was going to up and operating by Oct. 1 and now we're not confident until it's real."