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What did Oracle know about Cover Oregon debacle?

Documents raise questions about company's role in botched website


For the past two years Oracle, the multinational software giant, has insisted that it’s not to blame for the website fiasco known as Cover Oregon.

However, a document reviewed by the Portland Tribune (a sister publication of the News-Times) last week contains internal communications that seemingly contradict what Oracle has been telling the public — and suggest the company’s own employees felt Oracle did not give Oregon its money’s worth.

The interoffice correspondence has never been disclosed publicly in the two years since the faulty health care exchange cost the state more than $300 million.

In fact, the California-based contractor is battling in court to keep its internal communications under wraps.

Oracle repeatedly has blamed the failure of the Cover Oregon website project on state mismanagement and politics. They’ve found plenty of backing in thousands of documents already released publicly by the state of Oregon.

The state, meanwhile, has argued that Oracle knew its work was faulty and kept vital information from the state. The state recently filed a brief in Marion County Circuit Court saying Oracle’s own internal documents support that claim. But because Oracle has designated the documents as confidential, the examples were blacked out.

Last week, however, The Portland Tribune was able to review an unredacted version of the brief, which includes summaries (and selected quotes) of private exchanges between Oracle employees. They reveal:

n Some of Oracle’s own employees mocked the company’s work for Oregon, according

to the brief. One company assessment in November 2013 found its software develop-ment “didn’t pass the ‘laugh test.’”

n In a Nov. 22, 2013, internal email that appears to contain two typos, one Oracle developer wrote that an “army” of 200 programmers for the company was “rapoing the state f Oregon on something that will never work well,” according to the brief.

n Yet another passage, from a March 16, 2012, internal email, suggests a company executive may have opposed the state’s plan to hire a prime contractor to oversee Oracle’s work out of a desire to preserve the company’s lucrative position as Cover Oregon’s prime contractor. Oracle now, in contrast, says this lack of oversight is at the heart of the project’s problems.

Secrecy questioned

The passages above — and other documents that are labeled secret — “belie Oracle’s public relations story, undermine its litigation defenses, and strongly support plaintiffs’ claims,” according to the state’s motion.

The state contends that Oracle has misused the confidentiality order to prevent the state from “providing the Oregon Legislature, Congress, federal authorities, and Oregon citizens with a complete history” of the project.

In a statement to The Portland Tribune, however, Oracle said the state had “cherry picked” the passages out

of more than 2 million documents.

“There are thousands of documents that tell the true story and that clearly establish that the State was responsible for the outcome of Cover Oregon,” Oracle spokesperson Deborah Hellinger said Monday.

Perhaps the most interesting excerpt of Oracle correspondence concerns the state’s initial plan to bring in the equivalent of an IT general contractor, called a systems integrator, to oversee Oracle and manage the project.

Not filling that position created a huge management void and “created massive problems” for the Oregon project, according to a PowerPoint presentation Oracle shared with members of Congress.

According to the state’s motion, however, an Oracle executive recommended in a March 2012 internal email that the company discuss how to stop the state from hiring an integrator.

Mixed responsibility

IT experts who’ve followed the project say both sides share responsibility. Todd Williams, a management consultant and author of a book on problem projects, say the internal correspondence reviewed by The Portland Tribune indicate Oracle “seemed to be more interested in their short-term profit rather than the long-term relationship and viability of the product.”

But they don’t change Williams’ view that the state bears most of the responsibility for Cover Oregon’s failure.

“I do believe Oregon is much more at fault,” Williams said. “Oregon screwed its population on this project.”