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Tue December 17, 2013
Politics

Obama Meets With Tech Leaders, Taps Microsoft Exec To Fix HealthCare.gov

Originally published on Tue December 17, 2013 11:31 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. The government's health insurance website has a new Mr. Fixit. The Obama administration has hired a former Microsoft executive to oversee improvements. Kurt DelBene will take over for Jeff Zients, the former management consultant and White House staffer who was brought in in late October to help turn the troubled website around.

News of DelBene's appointment comes as President Obama met today with a group of high tech CEOs. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: And administration officials say the health insurance website has seen a night and day improvement since its disastrous launch two and a half months ago. But there's more work to do and the man who has been leading the fixit project, Jeff Zients is due to return to the White House in just a few weeks.

Outside observers have been clamoring for the president to appoint someone with both management and technology chops to oversee the website full time. Former White House advisor Ezekiel Emanuel says Kurt DelBene, who used to run Microsoft's Office division fits that bill.

EZEKIEL EMANUEL: Now, they're bringing in someone with a lot of IT experience and certainly management experience. It looks like we're going in the right direction.

HORSLEY: DelBene, who is married to a freshman congresswoman from Washington State, has agreed to stay on the job for at least six months. Emanuel says that continuity is important.

EMANUEL: You don't put Google up and walk away. You don't put Facebook up and walk away. These things need constant attention, constant upgrading and constant tweaking to ensure that the user experience is optimized.

HORSLEY: At the White House today, the president also quizzed high tech CEOs about how the government can use technology more effectively in areas like healthcare. Obama told a Wall Street Journal conference last month the list of failed government computer projects goes way beyond healthcare.gov.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There's probably no bigger gap between the private sector and the public sector than IT.

HORSLEY: The troubled launch of the insurance website has hurt not only the president's own political standing, but that of his fellow Democrats as well. New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen praised the White House this afternoon for trying to make things right.

SENATOR JEANNE SHAHEEN: We're going to run into these kinds of obstacles, but the point is not to give up, to try and fix whatever is not working and to make it better.

HORSLEY: Employees from Microsoft, Google, and other high tech firms have been among the president's top contributors. But many high tech companies are angry about the administration's electronic surveillance efforts, which sometimes put them in the awkward position of handing over customers records. Last week, companies ran a full-page newspaper ad complaining about the spying.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says today's meeting with the CEOs was also a chance to hear those executives concerns and to explain the administration's own effort to balance its surveillance methods.

JAY CARNEY: Making sure that we're doing what we can and should to keep ourselves safe and not just what we can because we have the technological capacity to do it.

HORSLEY: The White House is expected to complete its own review of spying methods next month. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.