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Seasoned Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene tapped to manage Healthcare.gov

Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene, who has capably served as the president of the company’s Business division for many years, will take over management of Healthcare.gov, the Obama administration announced today at a meeting with top technology executives, including Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith.

DelBene will succeed Jeffrey D. Zients, who has been serving as a senior advisor to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. He announced his retirement from Microsoft earlier this year. DelBene is married to U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene, who represents NPI’s home congressional district, WA-01.

The White House disclosed the news in a readout of the President’s meeting with leaders from several well-known technology firms, including Tim Cook of Apple, Eric Schmidt of Google, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Reed Hastings of Netflix and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. Microsoft was represented by Brad Smith, as mentioned.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius expanded upon the announcement a little later. In a blog post on HHS’ website, she welcomed DelBene to public service and explained what his role as a senior adviser would be:

Kurt will work closely with me, the White House, and the teams and senior leadership in place at HHS and CMS to see this project through its next important phase as the CMS team continues to build on their initial progress. He has agreed to serve in this role for at least the first half of next year.

Because of the site’s progress, his responsibilities, while similar to Jeff’s, will reflect an evolution of focus as we move on to the next phase.

First, Kurt will provide management expertise, operations oversight, and critical advice on additional enrollment channels, field operations, marketing and communications. 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 HealthCare.gov. Kurt’s leadership and management of HealthCare.gov will be in consultation with CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and in partnership with the project’s general contractor, QSSI.

Second, Kurt will execute the plan in place, so that we can ensure the site’s performance is strong through the close of open enrollment on March 31, 2014. This will include a focus 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.

Microsoft issued a statement shortly after the news was announced, lauding DelBene’s management skills and congratulating the administration.

“Kurt is a talented and capable executive, with a track record of successfully managing complex large-scale technology projects,” said Bill Gates, Microsoft’s founder and chairman. “Working with Kurt over many years, I know him to be a passionate advocate for using technology to solve difficult problems at scale. He brings deep expertise as a manager and engineer to his new responsibilities. I’m certain he’ll make an important positive contribution in his new role with HHS.”

Two of DelBene’s last major projects at Microsoft were the development and release of Office 365 and Office 2013. Office 365 is the company’s subscription-based office suite that runs in the cloud; while Office 2013 is the latest incarnation of Microsoft’s desktop office suite, succeeding Office 2010 and designed to run on Windows 8.

Aside from Windows, Office is one of Microsoft’s flagship products, and the consensus among observers and analysts was that it was was well-managed by Kurt DelBene during his tenure as president of the Business division.

I first met Kurt DelBene when Suzan was running for Congress against Dave Reichert in 2009. I was impressed that he found time to join Suzan on the campaign trail despite his responsibilities at Microsoft. He and Suzan have been consistently supportive of our work, and all of us here at NPI are very grateful for that.

DelBene’s experience helming complex projects will be invaluable. The Obama administration has made an excellent choice. It’s a real relief to know that one of the Pacific Northwest’s sharpest and most seasoned technology executives will be managing Healthcare.gov in the months to come.

We extend our congratulations and best wishes to Kurt as he transitions into this new role. America is very fortunate that he has volunteered for this challenge. It’s crucial that the Patient Protection Act be a success, and with Kurt DelBene as a senior adviser to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, there’s a greater likelihood it will be.