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CMS CIO Leaves Mess For Private Sector

CIO Tony Trenkle, who oversaw $2 billion IT office for CMS, including program, heads for the private sector.

The CIO for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Tony Trenkle, is leaving CMS, the agency embroiled in the ill-fated rollout of government's insurance marketplace website.

Trenkle, who directs CMS's Office of Information Servicesand oversees $2 billion in annual IT spending at CMS, is departing effective Nov. 15 to take an undisclosed position in the private sector. His departure was announced in an internal agency memo released today from by CMS chief operating officer Michelle Snyder.

Dave Nelson, currently director of the Office of Enterprise Management at CMS and an U.S. Air Force veteran, will serve as acting CIO upon Trenkle's departure, according to Snyder.

It remains unclear to what extent Trenkle was directly involved in the management of the insurance exchange site's development, which has come under intense scrutiny since its launch Oct. 1 after coding errorsprevented the exchange from operating properly.

The project was one of many enterprise operations under Trenkle's supervision. He oversaw a wide range of project groups responsible for supporting CMS's vast enterprise operations, including the databases and infrastructure associated with Medicaid and Medicare, the agency's claims payment systems and the agency's the consumer information and insurance systems group.

Trenkle's deputy, Henry Chao, however, was among those who recommended that CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner issue an Authority-to-Operate the insurance exchange, despite incomplete security tests, according to a Sept. 27 CMS memoreleased by the House committee on oversight and government reform. The document was co-signed by James Kerr, consortium administrator for Medicare health plans operations.

Trenkle joined CMS in 2005 as director of the Office of E-Health Standards & Services, where he led the national development and implementation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and electronic prescribing standards. He has overseen e-commerce projects for the General Services Administration and led efforts at the Social Security Administration in rolling out online public services, including the first online Social Security application. His plans in the private sector were not disclosed.

About a third of the 3.7 million Americans who attempted to register the first week after the marketplace's Oct. 1 launch were successful. Seven million Americans are expected to be insured under the Affordable Care Act, and they must enroll using the marketplaces by Dec. 15 in order to have coverage start on Jan. 1.

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User Rank: Apprentice
11/12/2013 | 12:39:27 AM
re: CMS CIO Leaves Mess For Private Sector
I wonder if there's even the tiniest possibility that this "undisclosed position in the private sector" is with Rupert Murdoch or the Koch brothers, "for services rendered"? Nah, pretty damn unlikely.
User Rank: Strategist
11/9/2013 | 12:41:04 AM
re: CMS CIO Leaves Mess For Private Sector
VP role at CGI?
User Rank: Ninja
11/8/2013 | 6:15:36 PM
re: CMS CIO Leaves Mess For Private Sector
Nice comment, Wyatt. As a developer, it was more informative what real problems are than your article. Too much of the politics of the ACA itself are injected into what is strictly a technical issue, the function of the online portal. Especially by the morons in Congress who are trying to use this as a reflection on the legislation itself. Whether you like ACA or not, the function of this website doesn't belong in that debate.
User Rank: Author
11/8/2013 | 3:56:52 PM
re: CMS CIO Leaves Mess For Private Sector
The primary technical reason for the failure of, according to an individual who has been in numerous meetings with CMS and its contractors, has to do with the poor quality of the software code on the website portion of the exchange. The data hub that connects to and pulls data from a variety of data sources had been adequately tested and worked satisfactorily. What was not tested adequately, and continues to be the source of failure, is the software architecture and code that processes information between the website and the data hub. Calling that "coding errors" may have been an oversimplification. OK. Agreed.

I don't know Trenkle, but I do know the CMS handles $900 BILLION annually in Medicaid and Medicare payments, and the consumer-facing website and back end IT systems that manage all of that, which Trenkle oversees, are on a scale few enterprises even know how to handle. Contractors who work on that system say those systems all work pretty smoothly. was a project that was thrust on CMS, forced by government rules to use contracts that required going to the lowest bidder, and given unrealistic deadlines. The website software development clearly suffered as a result. This project is not unlike what happens when a city contracts to build a subway station, awards the contract to the lowest bidder and ends up with completed project that fails to meet construction codes.

I'd agree, this was a systematic failure. And no question, this incident happened on Trenkle's watch. But the facts suggest this was a failure of political urgency, archaic acquisition rules, and pressures to deliver on time regardless of the warnings about its readiness overruled the day. Saying Trenkle should be held accountable -- or for that matter Secretary Sebelius -- is easy to say, but is more of a rush to judgement than a conclusion that is supported by the facts -- as we know them currently. If and when that changes, we'll report that.
User Rank: Strategist
11/7/2013 | 8:35:20 PM
re: CMS CIO Leaves Mess For Private Sector
"It remains unclear to what extent Trenkle was directly involved in the management of the insurance exchange site's development, which has come under intense scrutiny since its launch Oct. 1 after coding errors prevented the exchange from operating properly. "
Wow, is this what passes for journalism these days? CODING ERRORS?! C'mon IW, your reporters should be more accurate and less biased that this. If he was head of this debacle, then he should definitely be held accountable. But reporting this disaster as "coding errors" is pretty close to journalistic malpractice. It was a systematic failure, from Trenkle all the way down. Let's call it for what it is and not try to dress it up, no matter what our personal beliefs are.
User Rank: Moderator
11/7/2013 | 8:13:12 PM
re: CMS CIO Leaves Mess For Private Sector
I wonder if he got the job offer prior to Oct 1. This is a high profile project, so it's only proper that the CIO take responsibility for problems with it. If he wasn't worrying about this one, he should have been.
User Rank: Strategist
11/7/2013 | 7:09:11 PM
re: CMS CIO Leaves Mess For Private Sector
Tony Trenkle - I cannot say I would be in a hurry to hire him, or anyone else that managed the project. It is not something that I would be proud to place on my resume.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/7/2013 | 2:18:15 PM
re: CMS CIO Leaves Mess For Private Sector
I have to wonder whether he was making plans to leave prior to Oct. 1, anticipating problems.
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