Washington (CNN) - The White House had to defend its rollout of the President's signature health care legislation Saturday after two scathing reports that allege missteps, miscommunication and lack of leadership sank the launch of Obamacare's online exchanges.
The New York Times and the Washington Post each reported on a meeting between contractor CGI Federal and government employees at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in late August.
CGI won the main contract to build the Obamacare website, and CMS, the branch of the Department of Health and Human Services that was overseeing the launch, was growing worried the site was riddled with flaws and unprepared for day one.
The meetings were candid, but tense, according to the reports. Only five and a half weeks until the October 1 deadline, the majority of the 95 elements needed for the site’s functionality were not ready, by CGI's own evaluation; later, more than a dozen that were categorized as ready failed further testing.
In interviews with administration officials and a review of government and contractor documents, the reports show that CGI argued an October 1 deadline was impossible, given how complex and cutting-edge the government said the site needed to be. What’s more, without a high-level point person leading the operation for the government, CGI said it was difficult to get timely answers and understand the administration’s shifting vision, said the Times.
For the administration, that October 1 deadline was non-negotiable, and despite the warnings, it ordered CGI to push ahead while growing more and more frustrated with the contractor’s sloppy coding and missed deadlines, according to the report.
"If we could fire them, we would," said Michelle Snyder, CMS's chief operating officer, according to the New York Times.
The White House confirmed the meetings, via a statement from CMS on Saturday.
"In the months leading up to October, CMS engaged in hundreds of operationally focused planning conversations on processes, procedures and work to prepare for the beginning of open enrollment on October 1st. The meeting between CMS and contractors on August 22 and 23rd was part of the ongoing discussion," it said.
The statement went on to defend the troubled rollout and try to explain the decisions detailed in the reports, arguing the October 1 deadline was most important and promising further functions down the line.
"This was a complex project with a short timeline, and CMS prioritized essential functionality to be live on October 1st to ensure that consumers would be able to apply for eligibility and select a plan. A variety of operational topics were discussed at the meeting, and decisions were later made about priorities for October 1. Other functionality will come online over time," it said.
CGI Federal declined to comment, saying, “While we understand our silence leaves us exposed to others' conclusions, out of respect for CMS and all of our clients, we strongly believe in honoring our contractual commitments.”
The administration has now pledged that the site would be fully functional for most users by November 30.