Issa Subpoenas Web Firm with Ties to Obama Bundler
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 07:41 AM
By: Jennifer G. Hickey
The Obamacare website contractor that was issued a subpoena by Rep. Darrell Issa is owned by a company with a major donor and bundler for Barack Obama's presidential campaign among its executives.
Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed Quality Software Services Inc. (QSSI) on Tuesday for documents regarding the development of the Obamacare website.
Anthony Welters is the executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, which purchased QSSI in 2012, and was a major campaign bundler for Obama during his 2008 campaign for president, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org.
During the 2008 election cycle, Welters and his wife Beatrice raised between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama's campaign, and an additional $300,000 for the Obama inaugural committee. They donated $100,000 themselves to the committee.
The contributions paid off for Beatrice Welters, who served as the ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago until her resignation in 2012.
In addition to the Welters' activity for the Obama campaign, their sons Andrew and Bryant have given generously to Democratic campaigns and interests.
OpenSecrets.org found they have donated $258,000 since 2007, including $30,800 donations to the Democratic National Committee in 2012.
QSSI, which spent more than $2.5 million on lobbying this year, won a large contract in January to build a federal data services hub to help run the complex federal health insurance exchange.
Following the initial glitches with the Obamacare webite, QSSI was then tapped as the main contractor to oversee the process of "fixing" Healthcare.gov, the portal used by Americans to compare and purchase insurance plans.
Issa said in a release on Tuesday that QSSI has until Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. to comply with the subpoena by handing over any contracts it has with the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the Healthcare.gov development process.
"It is crucial that you provide information quickly because of the serious concerns about data security related to the lack of testing," the letter stated.
The subpoena was issued after QSSI failed to respond to a previous letter from the House Oversight committee requesting that it – along with 10 other Obamacare contractors – voluntarily provide lawmakers with documents by last Friday, which in QSSI's case did not happen.
The payoff for UnitedHealth Group from Obamacare could be large in the coming years, according to a July report by Barron's. It estimated that stock in UnitedHealth Group could rise 40 percent over the next two years as its "Optum business will help drive down costs for its health plans, giving it a competitive edge." Optum and QSSI are both part of UnitedHealth Group.
However, the qualifications of QSSI to handle the technological task of fixing the Obamacare website was called into question following the testimony of Optum Vice President Andrew Slavitt at a Congressional hearing last week.
Slaviss and Optum showed "they just aren't equipped to understand the weaknesses that make their systems vulnerable to cyberattacks," The Washington Post reported.
QSSI received three contracts totaling $32.83 million from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and also holds a contract with the Department of Education Central Automated Processing System for $5.5 million, according to filings provided to Congress by Slavitt.
One final connection between UnitedHealth Group's subsidiaries and the Obama administration is Steve Larsen, who oversaw implementation of Obamacare at the Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.
In mid-2012, Bloomberg reported that Larsen left to take a position with Optum because his "extensive, broad-based experience in health … will further enhance the support Optum provides to the health system and consumers in a rapidly evolving environment."
The link between the politically well-connected Welters and QSSI comes amid disclosures that a personal acquaintance of First Lady Michelle Obama has a key position at CGI Federal, the lead Obamacare website contractor.
Toni Townes-Whitley, a senior executive at CGI Federal, was a college classmate of Michelle Obama at Princeton. Both were active in the same campus groups –Organization of Black Unity and the Third World Center. They both now belong to the Association of Black Princeton Alumni.
Townes-Whitley visited the White House complex on four occasions earlier this year to meet with administration officials in her role as vice president for at CGI Federal, which secured a $678 million no-bid contract to build the Obamacare exchange web portal.