Congressional investigators are demanding answers from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner after she reportedly instructed a subordinate to “delete” an Obamacare-related email conversation involving key White House officials.
In a August 15 letter to Tavenner, leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce bring to light an October 5, 2013, email discussion involving White House representatives. The email was then forwarded to the CMS communications director with the following message: “Please delete this email-but please see if we can work on call script.”
Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, before the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Stressing that improvements are happening daily, the senior Obama official closest to the administration's malfunctioning health care website apologized Tuesday for problems that have kept Americans from successfully signing up for coverage. (Credit: AP)
According to veteran journalist Sharyl Attiksson, this revelation is “significant” for a number of reasons:
First, the email to be deleted included an exchange between key White House officials and CMS officials. Second, the email was dated October 5, 2013, five days into the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov. Third, federal law requires federal officials to retain copies of –not delete– email exchanges. And fourth, the document to be deleted is covered under Congressional subpoena as well as longstanding Freedom of Information requests made by members of the media (including me).
Members of Congress are now requesting answers from Tavenner, including why she instructed a subordinate, CMS Director of Communications Julie Bataille, to delete the email exchange rather than telling her to retain it as she claimed was the official policy.
As Attkisson notes, those copied on the email exchange included Jeanne Lambrew, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, White House health care advisor Christopher Jennings, as well as other HHS and CMS officials.
In the 2013 email exchange, Tavenner reportedly explained how CMS staff were dealing with the high volume of Obamacare applications as Healthcare.gov failed. She noted officials were accepting PDF files that “look and act like a paper application” while also trying to accept some information online. Eventually, another official asked for more details on the process.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently informed Congress that they would not be able to produce some of Tavenner’s emails requested under a subpoena as they were deleted. Lawmakers, who are investigating the “processes and procedures” that led to the disastrous rollout of Healthcare.gov, were told “most but not all” of the emails would likely be provided.
Tavenner blamed the email loss on the “extremely high volume of emails” that she receives on a daily basis.
The Friday letter from lawmakers asks Tavenner if any other emails were purposefully deleted and how CMS intends on attempting to recover them. Lawmakers also requested an explanation regarding several redactions made in some documents already provided to Congress.
“[N]ow we know that when HealthCare.gov was crashing, those in charge were hitting the delete button behind the scenes,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said in a statement.
Despite the "delete" request, CMS spokesman Aaron Albright told FoxNews.com that the email exchange was saved anyway.