Obamacare

Top Federal Health Official to Spokesperson While Obamacare Website Crashes: "Please delete this email…"

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Whitehouse.gov

On October 5, 2013, just days after Obamacare's exchanges officially—and disastrously—launched, Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), sent an email to Julie Bataille, a spokesperson for CMS who frequently represented the administration in press calls dealing with Obamacare.

Tavenner's email to Bataille was a forward of an email from Jeanne Lambrew, a key White House health policy adviser, about some of the issues that Obamacare's newly launched exchange system was having processing health insurance applications.

But what's most interesting about the email exchange isn't the particular content of that discussion. It's the first four words of Tavenner's note to Bataille, her spokesperson and subordinate: "Please delete this email."

The email was released by the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has requested documents related to the botched launch of Obamacare's online health exchange last fall.

It raises a number of questions about the administration's email retention policies, and its interest in keeping certain discussions out of the public eye: Was it common for senior officials to instruct employees to delete emails? What else might have been deleted? And how does this fit in with the agency's recent apology, in a letter to the National Archives, that some of its communications may have been lost due to deletion as a result of "extremely high volume of emails"?

The gist of the defense from CMS is that there's no need for a fuss because obviously the email was retained and made available to the House Committee as requested. But that's hardly reassuring. If the practice was common, and other emails were deleted and are now irretrievable, then there's no telling what's missing, and what those looking into the administration's botched management remain unable to see.