Former Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue in 2011 (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
By Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Poor management, a lack of transparency and shoddy oversight are to blame for the troubled rollout of the federal health insurance exchange, the former commissioner of Social Security told a congressional panel Thursday.
"I have seen attempts to blame its so-called 'glitches' on silly explanations ranging from enthusiasm for the exchanges to the policies of Ronald Reagan," said Michael Astrue, who was the top lawyer at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before President George W. Bush appointed him to head the Social Security Administration.
"The simple truth is that HHS mismanaged the process. Failure was not inevitable. It was achieved," he said in testimony to a House subcommittee on health.
Astrue specifically singled out two Health and Human Services officials for criticism:
• Donald Berwick, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, now running as a Democrat for governor of Massachusetts. Berwick, he said, "failed to put in place the basic assignments, goals and systems of accountability necessary to manage a project of this scope."
• Daniel Levinson, the department's inspector general, who "undermined transparency" during the planning stages. Levinson's aides have been "smug and unhelpful," he said, and did nothing to alert the public about the "chaos" at the department.
Berwin and Levinson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Astrue spoke to the subcommittee Thursday as part of a blitz of oversight hearings by the GOP-controlled House.
"Obamacare's problems are not limited to a website," said Chairman Joe Pitts, R-Pa. "The law was sold to the American people with false promises, and real people are being hurt."
But Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said Republicans were simply trying to throw a "monkey wrench" into President Obama's signature achievement.
"This committee is not holding an oversight or implementation hearing," Pallone said. Instead, Republicans are trying to "sabotage Obamacare and force its failure."