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Obama’s Top Tech Official: Is a ‘Teachable Moment’

Caitlin Fairchild/ file photo

Correction: This story initially said VanRoekel did not take questions from the audience. He did take questions later, following another speaker's remarks. There were no questions on 

In his first public remarks in seven months, Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel told an audience dominated by IT contractors that the debacle surrounding the Obama administration’s online health insurance exchange represents “a teachable moment for government.”

He said the administration should be applauded for its boldness in creating the health exchanges. He offered no explanation for why the administration failed to adequately test the website,, prior to launching it Oct. 1.

“We should all be proud of the fact that something this complex, this integrated to legacy systems -- and there are mainframes out there this thing hooks to -- was done at Internet scale and taken online in this way. Just the fact that we have transactions moving between agencies using open data, using modular development, using technology in a way that moves really from a 19th and 20th Century government paper approach to an online approach is something we all should be proud of,” VanRoekel said.

VanRoekel made his remarks in Williamsburg, Va., at the annual executive leadership conference hosted by the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council, a public-private technology group known as ACT-IAC. He did not elaborate on how the administration is addressing problems that have nearly crippled since its launch.

“It is a complex project,” VanRoekel said. “The fact that we’re moving transactions around securely, respecting privacy and other things -- there is incredible complexity out there.”

“Even in large multinational companies this stuff happens,” he said, recalling his days as a Microsoft executive.  

“Our goal here is to definitely fix this thing and make sure it’s working and meet people’s expectations,” he said. 

Join Nextgov's Joseph Marks at 2 p.m. today as he moderates a Google Hangout discussion with three technology experts using screenshare and examples on how to fix from a user and back-end standpoint. The discussion will be archived on Nextgov's Google+ page and on the Nextgov YouTube channel

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