WASHINGTON - The Obama administration tapped former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene to take over managing HealthCare.gov on Tuesday, as President Obama sought the advice of high-tech executives on how to improve the government's online health insurance enrollment system.
DelBene, who recently retired from Microsoft and is married to Rep. Suzan DelBene (D., Wash.), will serve as an unpaid senior adviser. He will succeed Jeffrey Zients, who is scheduled to head the National Economic Council beginning in February.
"Kurt has proven expertise in heading large, complex technology teams and in product development," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a blog post Tuesday. She said he would serve in the role at least until the end of June.
Several lawmakers, concerned about the website's rocky rollout, had pressed the administration to install an outside expert once Zients left. Zients, who was appointed in late October and oversaw major improvements in the system, had requested a month's time to prepare for his next West Wing assignment.
DelBene spent two decades managing large technical teams at Microsoft and recently served as president of its Microsoft Office division; he announced in July that he would retire by the end of the year. Sebelius said that he would work with Health and Human Services officials and the site's general contractor, QSSI.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates said DelBene "brings deep expertise as a manager and engineer to his new responsibilities."
DelBene oversaw more than 6,000 engineers as president of the Microsoft Office division and helped the transition to a cloud-based format.
HHS announced DelBene's appointment as he and other administration officials met with 15 executives from high-tech firms about the website, federal IT contracting, and the government's national security surveillance program.
The high-tech leaders warned Obama that spying programs were damaging their reputations and could harm the broader economy.
Cisco Systems has said it is seeing customers, especially overseas, back away from U.S.-branded technology after documents revealed the National Security Agency enlisted tech firms and also secretly tapped into their data hubs around the world as the agency pursued terrorism suspects. Companies such as IBM, AT&T, and Verizon Communications are facing angry shareholders, who say Silicon Valley has been slow to recognize the reputational crisis.
The meeting followed a federal judge's ruling Monday that the NSA's phone surveillance program appears unconstitutional.