Microsoft Exec To Run

Former Microsoft Office division president Kurt DelBene will lead troubled healthcare insurance site through the first half of 2014.

The White House has tapped Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene to lead the government's federal health care insurance exchange site, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday.

DelBene, who most recently served as president of Microsoft Office Division, will succeed Jeff Zients as a senior advisor to Sebelius and will work closely with the White House and senior HHS leaders, Sebelius wrote in a blog post. DelBene has agreed to serve in the role "at least through the first half of next year," she said, as the administration officials prepare to beef up efforts to enroll citizens into the government's Affordable Health Care for America Act program.

"Kurt has proven expertise in heading large, complex technology teams and in product development. He will be a tremendous asset in our work," Sebelius said.

[ State insurance exchanges face their own challenges. Read Health Insurance Exchanges Struggle To Charm Customer. ]

She also praised Zients, who took over the project after widespread performance problems erupted into a political firestorm for the administration, following the exchange's Oct. 1 launch. Zients, a former acting director and chief performance officer at the Office of Management and Budget, orchestrated a series of repair initiatives to fix more than 400 software bugs and upgrade the site.

"Kurt will provide management expertise, operations oversight, and critical advice on additional enrollment channels, field operations, marketing and communications," 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"

DelBene, who has worked for Microsoft since 1992 and has not held an administration position before, will need to focus quickly on the administration's goal of ramping up enrollment in the federal healthcare exchange, and ensuring the site's performance meets expectations, in time for the March 31, 2014, deadline when open enrollments close. 

As Sebelius laid out the task in her blog post, that will mean focusing 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." 

But he will also have to learn the finer points of working with many players behind the scenes of the troubled Obamacare website, including CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner, who heads up the agency responsible for the website, and the project's general contractor, QSSI, which was elevated to manage development when Zients took control, displacing the original contractor, CSI Federal.

According to Microsoft, DelBene held leadership roles at the company, including the Microsoft Business Division, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange. He had announced in July that he planned to retire from Microsoft by the end of this year.  DelBene is the husband of freshman Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.)

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