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CGI responds to Obamacare rollout criticism

CGI Group founder and chairman Serge Godin, left, and chief executive Michael Roach speak at the company's annual meeting Feb. 1, 2012 in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Montreal-based CGI Group Inc. is hitting back against critics that have blamed it for the glitch-ridden release of the website at the heart of U.S. health-care reform, arguing the Canadian company is not the "quarterback" that bears the overall responsibility for the failures.

The Canadian IT company designed the online marketplace that allows Americans without health insurance to pick and buy a plan. But the healthcare.gov website, which is a key part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act otherwise known as "Obamacare," has been plagued with problems since it launched on Oct. 1, kicking users offline and at times generating false data, according to various reports.

Republican lawmakers and critics of health-care reform have seized on the website's failings to attack U.S. President Barack Obama's signature policy. And the President himself has expressed frustration, saying "there's no sugar-coating it. The website has been too slow, people have been getting stuck during the application process."

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But now CGI's U.S. subsidiary, CGI Federal Inc., which has become caught in the middle of a highly partisan fight, is trying to shift the blame away from its employees and onto the U.S. government agency that is stick handling the whole project, which has many contractors.

"The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have the overall responsibility for administering the (market place for insurance)," said Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice-president at CGI Federal, in written comments posted on Wednesday evening to the website for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is conducting a hearing into the matter on Thursday.

"CGI Federal and the many other contractors selected to develop the (insurance marketplace) perform under the direction and supervision of CMS," Ms. Campbell wrote. "CMS serves the important role of systems integrator or 'quarterback' on this project and is the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance of the overall (marketplace)."

Ms. Campbell also wrote that a key problem in the complex software platform – which manages users' secure identities – was built by "another contractor." That contractor is QSSI Inc. though Ms. Campbell does not name it. QSSI, in its own submission to the committee, said a "late decision" to require that users register an identity before being allowed to browse for insurance plans likely overloaded the system – leading to problems gaining access.

The written statements ahead of the Thursday committee hearing are certainly not the end of the process. U.S. lawmakers will have a chance to grill the assembled executives at the hearing.

CGI has contracts worth about $2.3-billion with the U.S. federal government, according to a company document filed to the committee.

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