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Health website restored once more as feds open up about tech whizzes

The troubled federal health insurance website, which went offline just before a climactic hearing in Congress, is back in action again, officials said Thursday as tech gurus from companies including Google, Oracle and Red Hat joined the effort to fix the beleaguered site.

They said was working and handling fairly high volumes. And after days of badgering from Congress, journalists and critics, officials named two of the tech whizzes drafted to help fix the troubled site.

“Our focus now is really on maintaining system stability and testing,” Julie Bataille, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the site, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

The Obama administration has been wrestling with critics in Congress and elsewhere who have complained loudly about the health insurance website, which became logjammed immediately after its Oct. 1 launch. It went down over the weekend and again on Tuesday night, just before Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified at a much anticipated hearing.

Sebelius and CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner have both apologized for the failures. President Barack Obama has promised the site will be fixed by the end of November, ready for millions of people to sign up for health insurance plans. 

About 15 percent of the U.S. population goes without health insurance now and the goal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act is to get them covered.

Obama says an "A-team" of technical experts has been brought in to fix the problems. He appointed his incoming chief economic adviser, Jeff Zients, to head the project. But CMS had given little detail about just who was working on the site.

Bataille finally named some of them. “They come from leading technology companies such as Red Hat and Oracle; and include individuals with expertise on site reliability; stability; and scalability," she said.

“Two of these key personnel are Michael Dickerson and Greg Gershman. Michael is a Site Reliability Engineer on leave from Google. He has expertise in diving into any layer of the tech stack, from the metal to the application code to the people that write it, in order to deliver some of the world's most reliable online services," Bataille wrote in a blog post.

“Michael is onsite working with QSSI, the general contractor, leveraging his experience stabilizing large, high throughput applications to improve's reliability and performance.”

Gershman, she said, is a developer and entrepreneur and will work with another one of the contractors, CGI.

Congress hasn't given up. The House Energy and Commerce Committee said Thursday it had sent another batch of letters to HHS, demanding to know whether the website's problems affected the security of information people had put in. Anyone trying to buy insurance on the website has to give details of their income, their social security numbers, birthdates and other personal data.

"It is imperative that everything is being done to protect Americans' sensitive personal information," Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who chairs the committee, said in a statement.

"But as each day goes by, more concerns are being raised with's security, as well as the administration's competency to fix the lingering problems. The administration must do whatever it takes to give Americans peace of mind that their personal information will be safe. No excuses."