Lawmakers Call for GAO Audit of Cover Oregon Failure

Oregon rep and committee chairs call for review of taxpayer-funded healthcare exchange
A roomful of people work to process applications for Cover Oregon (AP)

A roomful of people work to process applications for Cover Oregon (AP)


Republicans called for a federal audit of the beleaguered Cover Oregon website Wednesday after allegations of criminal fraud surfaced recently.

Rep. Greg Walden (R., Ore.), joined by GOP members of the Energy and Commerce Committee and House Oversight Committee, sent a letter Wednesday to the Government Accountability Office requesting it review the taxpayer dollars used on the project.

“Although the roll out of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) has been problematic nationwide, no state has had more complications than Oregon,” Walden said in a statement Thursday.

“The State of Oregon’s exchange website, Cover Oregon, has been such a technological failure that the site was unable to enroll anyone months after the start of the open enrollment period,” the members wrote in the letter. “The catastrophic breakdown of Cover Oregon is unacceptable and taxpayers deserve accountability.”

Oregon received more than $300 million in federal grants to build the exchange and website.

However, the website was completely nonfunctional when it launched in October. It remains broken, and the state has spent an additional $160 million trying to fix the website and employ staff to process paper applications.

Investigation by KATU and other news outlets revealed that officials were warned several times about the massive problems facing the website as early as 2011.

Yet the website had to pass multiple “gate reviews” by federal officials to secure nearly $60 million in grants.

Carolyn Lawson, the state’s chief information officer in charge of the project, wrote in a project update to a legislative committee that staff from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had reviewed the website design and were “delighted” with it.

“They gave Oregon very high marks, say our design was among the best they had seen,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, an independent quality-assurance team hired by the state reported thtat “all 13 people interviewed believed the project’s scope is ill-defined and classify it as a major risk.”

The disparity has led to questions of whether Lawson’s team was showing federal officials dummy websites in order to secure the grants. A former state GOP representative, Patrick Sheehan, took his concerns to the FBI, which has declined to say whether or not it is investigating the matter.

The Oregonian reported that Lawson was previously investigated in California for funneling $500,000 in contracts to her former boss, who became her deputy when she was hired to lead the Cover Oregon website development.

Lawson resigned in December and has rebuffed interview requests from local news outlets.

Wednesday’s letter was signed by Walden, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.), Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R., Penn.), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R., Penn.).

CJ Ciaramella   Email CJ | Full Bio | RSS
CJ Ciaramella is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Beacon, he was a reporter for the Daily Caller. He was also a Collegiate Network year-long fellow at the San Diego Union-Tribune and has written articles for the Weekly Standard and Oregon Quarterly. Ciaramella attended the University of Oregon, where he edited the award-winning student magazine, the Oregon Commentator. He lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @cjciaramella. His email address is