As Obamacare Website Failed, CMS Chief Instructed Top Spox to “Please delete this email…” Between White House and HHS

August 15, 2014

Committee Leaders Press Tavenner for Answers Regarding Request for Staff to Delete Email, Status of Missing Emails

WASHINGTON, DC – House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders today sent a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner regarding a document uncovered by the committee in which Tavenner instructs the top CMS spokeswoman to delete an email exchange between CMS, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the White House. The email is dated October 5, 2013, five days into the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov. This letter follows a recent memo sent to the committee from CMS regarding the potential loss of emails pertaining to the committee’s October 10, 2013, request for documents surrounding the implementation of the president’s health law.

The leaders write, “Over 10 months after sending this request, last week your staff informed the Committee on Energy and Commerce that copies of your e-mail communications could have been lost.  CMS also informed the National Archives and Record Administration that it was possible that some of your email records ‘may not be available to HHS.’ This unusual development is unfortunately part of a pattern of this administration’s inability to properly preserve records. In the letter to the National Archives, CMS represents the potential loss of your emails as the result of the ‘extremely high volume of emails’ that are received daily.

“The day after a CMS official informed the Committee about the potential loss of your emails, HHS provided the Committee with additional documents related to our review of HealthCare.gov. One of the e-mails in this production shows that you directed a subordinate to delete an email communication featuring a number of White House representatives.” 

"Right on cue, when the going gets tough, the Obama administration proclaims it can't find the documents,” commented full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). “Time and again, the self proclaimed 'most transparent administration' has been anything but. And now we know that when HealthCare.gov was crashing, those in charge were hitting the delete button behind the scenes. What was the Obama administration trying to hide?”

“It is troubling enough that it takes 10 months to provide documents pertaining to the failed implementation of the president’s health law, but now we’re told that some emails may be lost and another was asked to be deleted,” added Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA). “We were told that this nearly $1 billion website didn’t work because of volume, but our investigation proved that was not the case. Documents from the administration continue to prove that what the administration boasted to the public did not line up with what it was saying internally. We will continue to demand answers and hold the administration accountable for these failures.”

Committee leaders ask Tavenner to explain why she asked her colleague to delete that particular email and if there are other emails in which she instructed HHS staff to delete the email. The letter also requests more information on the documents that may have been permanently lost, the purpose for the redactions in the documents that have been provided to the committee, and the status of completing the committee’s October 2013 request.

Read the complete letter online here.

View the email exchange here

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