Lawmakers: Sebelius failed at government website projects prior to serving in Obama administration

Kathleen Sebelius

Kathleen Sebelius

From, by Patrick Howley, 10/23/13 –

Obama administration Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’  failure at designing websites to provide government services began during her  term as governor of Kansas, long before the Obamacare website debacle,  Kansas political insiders told The Daily Caller.

Sebelius oversaw numerous costly and disastrous government website projects  during her six-year governorship (2003-2009), including a failed update of the  Department of Labor’s program to provide unemployment pay and other services and  similar updates pertaining to the Department of Administration and the state’s  Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)  services.

The Department of Labor’s overhaul of its computer programs was a notable  boondoggle, according to 14-year former Kansas state senator and former state  Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee.

“In the Kansas Senate, I chaired the Commerce committee. We had oversight  over the Department of Labor. For years, we watched as the Department of Labor  under Sebelius worked on that computer program. After seven years and $50  million, something should work,” Brownlee told TheDC.

“In Kansas if you have a 40 or 50 million dollar project, that’s a lot of money,” Brownlee  said, noting that the Labor Department project was funded by federal money while  other Sebelius website projects sucked up state taxpayer dollars.  “They started and stopped that project with at least 3 different major  contractors.”

When Brownlee was appointed to head the state’s Department of Labor under new  Republican governor Sam Brownback in 2011, she was tasked with cleaning up  Sebelius’ technical mess.

“When I walked in the door at Labor [the computer update] was half-done.  There were about 240 errors in work-around. It was not functional,” Brownlee  said.

“The agency was spending more than $1 million per month on contractors and  other things. So as soon as we found out how much was going out per month we had  to shut that down. That wasn’t workable,” Brownlee said. “In the private sector,  that would never be acceptable.” (RELATED:  GOP senator to Sebelius: RESIGN)

“The computer [program update] was supposed to help deliver unemployment  insurance benefits, which is critical, obviously, during a recession, because  unemployment was much higher at the time. But the agency kept hiring more people  because the computer system didn’t work. The Obama administration provided the  money to fund it, and the money ended when I got there so we had to downsize  considerably,” Brownlee said. ”I brought in a consultant who fixed  everything so that what we had was somewhat usable.”

“To Brownback, it was important to him that things worked. The point of a  computer system is not to have one in and of itself. It’s to facilitate services  for constituents. And that’s impossible when the system doesn’t work,” Brownlee  said.

Sebelius’ other government website projects, funded with state taxpayer  money, also created considerable headaches.

“Under Sebelius there were a number of computer projects. At the Department  of Administration, there was a SMART system for [tracking] financial data about  agencies and a system for HR information. The performance on it was extremely  poor. The Department of Revenue re-did their DMV programs. That started under  Sebelius,” Brownlee said, adding that Brownback was “saddled with that [DMV]  contract” when he took office.

Kansas constituents were left waiting days to obtain DMV services.

“In government, these computer transactions are a black hole for tens of  millions of dollars,” Brownlee  said. “People worked around it and worked the other way pretty much. I don’t  know that [Sebelius] was ever personally held responsible for any of this…when  you’re trying to serve your citizens somebody has to be responsible.”

Other lawmakers acknowledged the failures of Sebelius’ tech projects.

“We heard several excuses for IT failures under Sebelius. Especially towards  the end of her administration. The legislature was often frustrated with the  Labor Department, Department of Administration, and also Pharmacy claims. It was  hard to get clear answers back then too,” Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab told  The Daily Caller.

“We pretty much expected to fail, because she has a  pattern of failing on these big initiatives. We thought that was why she was not  nominated originally,” Schwab said.

Whether or not President  Obama knew about  Sebelius’ website track record when he put her in charge of overseeing the  Obamacare website remains unclear.

“When you consider that Obamacare is the pinnacle of president Obama’s  presidential career, why would he not have been informed?,” Brownlee said. “Why  is it that the private sector can do these projects and do them in a timely way  and they work and government can’t?”

The White House and the Department of Health and Human  Services did not return requests for comment.

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