For reporters covering Capitol Hill, there are two phrases that should immediately raise red flags when put in the same sentence: “partial transcript” and “House Oversight Committee.”
Republicans on this committee got into quite a bit of trouble in this area during the Clinton era, and now that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) holds the gavel, reporters have been fed half-truths through “partial transcripts” over and over again.
And yet, some keep falling for the same trick. Last night, it was CBS News.
CBS News has learned that the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website’s security…. The project manager testified to congressional investigators behind closed doors, but CBS News has obtained the first look at a partial transcript of his testimony.
Henry Chao, HealthCare.gov’s chief project manager at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), gave nine hours of closed-door testimony to the House Oversight Committee in advance of this week’s hearing. In excerpts CBS News has obtained, Chao was asked about a memo that outlined important security risks discovered in the insurance system.
Based on the “partial transcript” from Issa’s committee, Chao didn’t know about a Sept. 3 memo on website problems identified by another official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Confronted with the document, the partial transcript shows Chao saying, “I just want to say that I haven’t seen this before.”
The CBS report sounds troubling, right? Probably, at least until one picks up the phone to ask Democrats on the committee whether the CBS report is accurate.
I talked to a Democratic staffer this morning about the partial transcript and the aide said Issa’s staff “basically sandbagged this witness with a document he had never seen before and then failed to inform him that it has nothing to do with parts of the website that launched on October 1. In fact, it relates to a function of the website that is not currently active and won’t be until the spring of 2014. Rather than seeking out the truth, this press release tries to scare the public by capitalizing on confusion caused by the Chairman’s own staff.”
Oh. So, when Republicans and CBS suggest the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website’s security, they’re leaving out pretty much every relevant detail that points in a more accurate direction.
The Democratic staffer added that even when this part of the website is active, it “will not submit or share personally identifiable information,” but rather, will only include “insurance information plan data.”
Let’s say this again: beware of partial transcripts from Issa’s office. They keep pulling this trick; there’s no reason anyone should keep falling for it.