Q: Does a college classmate of Michelle Obama work for CGI Federal? Did that company receive a no-bid contract to build the HealthCare.gov website?
A: Toni Townes-Whitley, a senior vice president at CGI, and Obama graduated from Princeton University in 1985. However, company and government officials say the contract was awarded through a competitive bidding process.
Was CGI the sole bidder on the Obamacare website? Was Toni Townes-Whitley, senior vice president at CGI Federal, the classmate of Michelle Obama at Princeton (class of 1985) and are both members of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni? Did CGI donate $47 million to the Obama campaigns?
An email forwarded to FactCheck.org several times claims that “First Lady Michelle Obama’s Princeton classmate is a top executive at the company that earned the contract to build the failed Obamacare website.”
That’s actually the lead sentence of an Oct. 25 Daily Caller article linking the Obama administration and CGI Federal, the tech firm hired by the administration to build HealthCare.gov.
That same Daily Caller article said CGI Federal “earned the no-bid contract to build the $678 million Obamacare enrollment website at HealthCare.gov.”
Toni Townes-Whitley — the executive named in the article — is a senior vice president with CGI Federal. And she graduated from Princeton University in 1985 — the same year as Michelle Obama.
But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services dispute the claim that CGI Federal received a “no-bid” contract. A spokeswoman for the agency said that four companies, including CGI Federal, submitted proposals to build the marketplace website.
It’s true that Townes-Whitley works for CGI Federal. She joined the company in May 2010, and is senior vice president of the Civilian Agency Programs Business Unit, according to the CGI website. In her current role, she oversees services to 22 U.S. federal civilian agencies and is “responsible for sales, client relationships, P&L and member management for CAP’s 1,850+ members across the U.S. and 34 countries internationally.”
It’s also true that she and Michelle Obama graduated from Princeton University in 1985, and both are members of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni, according to the alumni group’s website.
Obama studied sociology and African-American studies at Princeton, and Townes-Whitley studied economics and public policy at the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The women belonged to some of the same student groups as well.
Obama, then Michelle Robinson, participated in the Organization of Black Unity and the Third World Center, according to a Boston Globe article. And an out-of-date LinkedIn page for Townes-Whitley — before she began working for CGI Federal — lists those same groups among her “activities and societies” while in school.
In addition, White House visitor records show that Townes-Whitley attended meetings at the White House at least four times between 2010 and 2013. According to the records, she met with Vivek Kundra, former White House chief information officer, in 2010; Danny Werfel, former controller of the Office of Management and Budget, in 2011 and 2013; and Jonathan McBride, assistant to the president and director of presidential personnel, in 2013. The 2010 meeting was described as a forum on IT management reform, according to the records. No description was given for the other meetings.
Townes-Whitley also attended a White House holiday party in 2010. A photo on her Facebook page shows her and her husband, John Whitley, posing with the president and first lady.
What we don’t know is whether any of those details means that Townes-Whitley had anything to do with CGI Federal receiving a federal contract to work on the HealthCare.gov website as the email could lead readers to believe. That claim isn’t made directly in the Daily Caller article, and the emails it has spawned provide no other information directly linking her to the work order.
We contacted the first lady’s press office to see if the women knew one another while in school or if they are in contact now. But we didn’t hear back.
However, a company official for CGI denied that Townes-Whitley had any role in securing the contract.
“Ms. Townes-Whitley is not currently and has never been responsible for the CMS contract as a CGI employee,” said Linda Odorisio, CGI vice president of global communications, in an email to FactCheck.org. “She also was not involved in CGI business development, proposal development or client meetings related to the CMS FFM program (Healthcare.gov).”
Odorisio said that Townes-Whitley has communicated directly with Michelle Obama on two occasions while working for CGI Federal, both times during social events at the White House attended by hundreds of guests.
“There was NO DISCUSSION OF CGI” during either conversation, Odorisio wrote. (Capitalizations are her own.)
The CGI Contract
A portion of the Oct. 25 Daily Caller article that is being forwarded widely in an email claims that CGI Federal “earned the no-bid contract to build the $678 million Obamacare enrollment website at HealthCare.gov.”
The Daily Caller got that bit of information from an Oct. 13 report in the Washington Examiner that said “Federal officials considered only one firm to design the Obamacare health insurance exchange website that has performed abysmally since its Oct. 1 debut.”
A portion of that Examiner article also appears as the lead in another chain email going around online.
It’s true that the CMS did not accept bids from all comers to build the HealthCare.gov website. A Bloomberg report said the administration used an “expedited bidding system” that limited its choices to just a select few.
But officials for CGI Federal and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services say it’s not accurate that CGI Federal was the only firm considered for the job.
In congressional testimony, Cheryl Campbell, a CGI Federal senior vice president, said that the firm received the contract to build the site “through a two-step competitive process” that began back in 2007.
Campbell, Oct. 24: CGI Federal obtained the [Federal Facilitated Marketplace] contract through a two-step competitive process. In 2007, through full and open competition, CGI Federal was awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contract for Enterprise Systems Development (ESD) along with 16 other industry competitors. In 2011, CMS conducted a competition for the FFM cost-reimbursement task order among the ESD contract holders. Of the four bids submitted, CGI Federal was selected by CMS as the “best value” to the government.
A CMS spokeswoman told FactCheck.org the same thing via email.
“CGI did not receive any sole source awards,” she said. “They competed for the work on our multiple award contract.”
The spokeswoman said the competition to build HealthCare.gov was open to the 16 contractors that had been awarded an ID/IQ contract through the process Campbell outlined in her testimony, and, thus, were pre-approved for subsequent task orders.
Four of the 16 companies submitted proposals for the work order to build the marketplace website, the spokeswoman said. Those four were: Quality Software Services Inc., IBM, Computer Science Corporation and CGI Federal.
We reached out to QSSI, IBM and CSC to confirm that they submitted proposals. CSC referred us to CMS, and we did not hear back from IBM or QSSI.
CGI announced in December 2011, that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight had awarded CGI Federal with an estimated $93.7 million contract to build the website for the federal health insurance exchanges. A press release said that the contract value was “over a two-year base with three, one-year option periods.”
More than that has been spent already, though.
At an Oct. 30 congressional hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said a total of $174 million had been spent as of August, including “$118 million on the website itself, and about $56 million has been expended on other IT to support the web.” Sebelius said $197 million had been obligated to CGI Federal through March 2014. That figure is confirmed by government records available at USASpending.gov.
In addition, CMS communications director Julie Bataille, in a Nov. 1 conference call with reporters, said the total budget for the website project was “in the neighborhood of $630 million.” The CMS spokeswoman told us that amount includes contracts for the HealthCare.gov website, the data services hub that supports the state and federal exchanges and other system hardware.
Another email making the rounds suggests that CGI campaign donations played a role. It says CGI contributed $47 million to President Obama’s campaign and that company executives were “large campaign bundlers” for the president.
But the $47 million figure is bogus, and we found no evidence that company executives raised large amounts of money for the president.
CGI’s political action committee — CGI Technologies and Solutions Inc. PAC — contributed $128,500 to federal candidates in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ contribution records. And the majority of that amount, 52 percent, went to Republican candidates. The PAC also contributed $21,000 to federal candidates in 2008, with 67 percent going to Democratic candidates. But Obama didn’t receive contributions from the PAC in either year.
CGI employees, however, have contributed directly to the president before.
Townes-Whitley contributed $1,500 to President Obama’s reelection campaign between 2011 and 2012. CGI President George Schindler donated $1,000 to the campaign also. But Schindler gave $1,000 to Obama’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney as well.
Overall, individuals working for CGI contributed just $27,055 to federal candidates in 2012, according to CRP, and almost 58 percent of that amount went to Republicans.
We also found no evidence that CGI executives were big bundlers for Obama.
In 2008 and 2012, the Obama campaign disclosed individuals who raised more than $50,000 for the campaign. None of the “executive officers and senior leaders” currently listed on CGI’s U.S. management team or CGI Federal’s management team pages are listed as major bundlers for Obama’s 2008 or 2012 campaigns.
There is no evidence that Townes-Whitley’s connection to the first lady, or CGI’s campaign contributions, had anything to do with the contract being awarded to CGI Federal as viral emails suggest.
Company and government officials say the contract was awarded through a competitive — yet limited — process, and that Townes-Whitley was not involved.
If any evidence to the contrary does surface, we will update this item accordingly.
– D’Angelo Gore
Howley, Patrick. “Michelle Obama’s Princeton classmate is executive at company that built Obamacare website.” Daily Caller. 25 Oct 2013.
Jacobs, Sally. “Learning to be Michelle Obama.” Boston Globe. 15 Jun 2008.
White House. Visitor Access Records. Accessed 9 Dec 2013.
Odorisio, Linda, CGI vice president of global communications, email sent to FactCheck.org. 4 Dec 2013.
Pollock, Richard. “Feds reviewed only one bid for Obamacare website design.” Washington Examiner. 13 Oct 2013.
Wayne, Alex and Miller, Kathleen. “Obamacare Expedited Bidding Limited Who Could Build Site.” Bloomberg Politics. 4 Nov 2013.
Campbell, Cheryl. Written testimony prepared for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. 24 Oct 2013.
CGI. “CGI selected to build U.S.-wide competitive health insurance exchange.” News release. 1 Dec 2011.
Sebelius, Kathleen. Testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 30 Oct 2013.
Center for Responsive Politics. CGI Technologies & Solutions. Accessed 9 Dec 2013.