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, 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 247 about Kurt’s lead­er­ship and man­age­ment of 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 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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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