Commentary by Barry Rascovar, for MarylandReporter.com
The Maryland General Assembly concludes its 2014 session Monday in good shape except for one monumental omission: the mystery surrounding Marylands fatally flawed health exchange, which has squandered uncounted tens of millions of dollars.
Its now clear that both Gov. Martin OMalley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown are content to stonewall and impede any detailed investigation of what went wrong in setting up the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange until well after the June 24 primary election.
Is there a cover-up going on?
Judge for yourself.
On Thursday, the states legislative auditor told lawmakers
he had been thwarted in his attempt to conduct a meaningful review of the health exchange.
Because the exchanges leaders only gave state auditors what was available to the public, We dont have the complete story, said the chief auditor, Thomas Barnickel III. Theres a lot we dont know.
The documents auditors received were heavily redacted a sure sign things are being hidden from view.
Its also not in line with accepted auditing practices of state government agencies.
But when the governor and lieutenant governor want to make sure no one gets to the bottom of this historic debacle any time soon, the administration knows how to obfuscate.
No sign of Rebecca Pearce
For instance, the exchange gave auditors 600 emails to or from Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein the administrations spokesman on this issue but nary a single email involving Rebecca Pearce, who ran the troubled exchange until December.
Could such an astounding omission have been accidental?
The redactions were so numerous in the 14,500 documents that auditors couldnt determine if the controversial contract awards were done legally or appropriately.
Who hired the contractor?
Auditors also couldnt figure out how the exchange went about selecting the vendor who screwed up the exchanges computer program Noridian of North Dakota or how in the world the exchange opted to buy off-the-shelf software as opposed to customized software from IBM.
This software proved incapable of doing the job.
Auditors did learn from documents there was confusion within the exchange over points of contact, meeting schedules, lack of a program manager and even a lack of details about the project plan.
They made one definitive finding: The exchange conducted no performance testing whatsoever.
Is it any wonder this lemon of a software program crashed on Day One and has yet to fully recover?
Limited document release
Exchange leaders also saw to it that auditors didnt get enough information to figure out who made those horrendously poor decisions, who was really in charge and who should be held to account for this debacle.
Democratic leaders in the legislature arent in any hurry, either, to pin some of the blame on Brown because that would hurt his campaign for governor.
So no one became indignant when it became clear last Thursday at a hearing in Annapolis that the legislatures own auditors had been stonewalled.
Earlier in the week, OMalley and Brown laid out their own line of attack: Were not at fault because its the evil contractors who messed up.
Who hired the contractors?
And who, exactly, hired those contractors? Arent those the ones who ought to be fingered?
What was Browns role as co-chair of the exchanges oversight committee?
Didnt he have to approve those contracts? Or was he only a figurehead?
Its clear now the prime contractor never should have been chosen in the first place. Is that the contractors fault or the OMalley-Brown administrations?
What genius decided to launch the states most complex and expensive IT project with off-the-shelf software?
Is it IBMs fault the OMalley-Brown administration decided to take the cheaper route and ended up with a turkey that was never designed for the tasks assigned it by the exchange?
Is it Noridians fault the OMalley-Brown administration pulled a bait-and-switch?
Exchange leaders signed a fixed-price contract with Noridian that included
261 requirements for the software program and then later added 227 new requirements, changed 28 of the original requirements and dropped 73 of the mandates Noridian had bid on.
OMalley seems content to blame IBM for what went wrong. Yes, IBM made the off-the-shelf software, but it was never tailored for the complicated interfaces envisioned by the IT gurus in Maryland government. Yet IBM is now the governors fall guy.
But IBM is pushing back. The computer giant says it went the extra mile to fit a round peg into a square hole, but that it couldnt overcome the states failure to properly manage the implementation of the exchange.
We may never know if thats true because OMalley wont launch an impartial investigation. Indeed, hes not launching any investigation into how potentially hundreds of millions of tax dollars were wasted.
This is the guy who wants to run for president?
What an unmitigated calamity. No authority figure in state government wants to get to the bottom of this disgrace. No public group is pressing for action, either.
Were left with an appalling mess.
The lack of accountability, transparency and responsibility if not remedied will become a permanent stain on the record of OMalley and Brown. History will not remember this episode kindly.