Former Microsoft exec to take over HealthCare.gov 'tech surge'

Kurt DelBene will take over from Jeff Zients, who will soon assume the directorship of the National Economic Council.

Kurt DelBene

Kurt DelBene will lead repair efforts for the troubled HealthCare.gov.

Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will take over from Jeff Zients as the man in charge of fixing the troubled HealthCare.gov website. Zients will move on to the post of director of the National Economic Council in February.

"Kurt will provide management expertise, operations oversight, and critical advice on additional enrollment channels, field operations, marketing and communications," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "The president and I believe strongly in having one person, with strong experience and expertise in management and execution, who is thinking 24/7 about HealthCare.gov. Kurt's leadership and management of HealthCare.gov will be in consultation with [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and in partnership with the project's general contractor, QSSI."

Sebelius thanked Zients for his work in leading the repair effort, saying that "the site is night and day from what it was when it launched on Oct. 1."

DelBene starts Dec. 18. The swift appointment came at the urging of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who wrote a letter signed by numerous Senate colleagues, including Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, asking President Barack Obama to maintain continuity in leadership of the so-called tech surge. That effort has been in effect since mid-October following the disastrous public launch of HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1.

DelBene will be responsible for keeping the site running efficiently through the March 31 open-enrollment period. The job "will include a focus on increasing system stability, redundancy and capacity, and building on improvements to the user interface, while continuing to prioritize security and privacy issues in line with industry best practices," Sebelius said.

DelBene will be on the job when the hosting of HealthCare.gov transfers from Verizon Terremark to Hewlett-Packard.

DelBene's career at Microsoft overlapped significantly with the tenure of current U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel, who worked at the software company from 1994 to 2009. So far, VanRoekel has maintained a low profile on the HealthCare.gov issue, and any role he had in recommending DelBene was not disclosed in the HHS announcement. His office did not immediately return a request for comment.

DelBene, who retired as president of the Microsoft Office Division, had a 20-year career at the software giant. One of his recent initiatives was the launch of Office 365, the cloud version of Microsoft's popular business applications.

He is married to Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), who was elected to Congress in 2012.

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