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Former Microsoft exec to take over HealthCare.gov

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Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will take over operations of the troubled HealthCare.gov website, the Obama administration said Tuesday.

DelBene, formerly president of the Microsoft Office Division, will start work on Wednesday and stay on for at least six months, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post.

“Kurt has proven expertise in heading large, complex technology teams and in product development. He will be a tremendous asset in our work,” Sebelius said.

DelBene will replace Jeffrey Zients, who stepped in to lead the team fixing the health insurance website when it crashed and burned on its Oct. 1 launch. Zients is set to take over next month as senior White House economic adviser from Gene Sperling.

“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,” Sebelius blogged.

“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,” she added.

DelBene is the husband of Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, who represents the first congressional district of Washington state. He was forced into retirement last July during a Microsoft reorganization. He'll donate his salary back to the treasury.

“Kurt is a talented and capable executive, with a track record of successfully managing complex large-scale technology projects,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates said in a statement released by the White House.

“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.”

The Obama administration has been castigated for the bungled debut of the health insurance exchanges, which were the centerpiece of health reform. They're supposed to be a way for tens of millions of people to buy insurance, many with hefty federal subsidies. But fewer than a million people have managed to sign up because of technical troubles.

Zients led an all-out repair effort that included a “punch list” of software fixes and the addition of new servers to help the overwhelmed website get up and working.

Federal government officials have admitted they rushed through testing of the site too fast and tried to do too much, too soon, to make an Oct. 1 launch. They’ve extended several deadlines, giving people until Dec. 31 to pay their first premiums for coverage starting the very next day, and asked insurance companies to extend other deadlines, too.

Obama met executives from leading technology companies like Google and Apple Tuesday to discuss ways to improve the functioning of HealthCare.gov. They included Apple's CEO Tim Cook, Twitter's Dick Costolo, Google's Eric Schmidt and Faceook's Sheryl Sandberg, among others, the White House said.

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