Healthcare Business News
Tony Trenkle

CMS technology leader Trenkle steps down

By Joseph Conn
Posted: November 6, 2013 - 7:15 pm ET

Tony Trenkle, the laconic federal official who was both the CMS' point man on the $16.6 billion electronic health-record incentive payment program and its technology leader during the launch of the troubled, will be stepping down as the agency's chief information officer and its director of information services to work in the private sector.

Congressional Republicans have called for heads to roll, including that of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, over the botched Oct. 1 rollout of the federal online insurance marketplace. But it's not clear whether Trenkle's departure is related to that debacle.

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The announcement of his exit came Wednesday in an e-mail to staff from CMS Chief Operating Officer Michelle Snyder. It named Dave Nelson, currently director of the office of enterprise management, as acting CIO. Trenkle's last day at the CMS will be Nov. 15.

Trenkle's new position was not announced.

“We're certainly grateful for his service here to CMS,” said CMS communications director Julie Bataille during a press call Wednesday afternoon.

Bataille sidestepped questions about whether Trenkle's departure was related to the fiasco. When pressed to elaborate on his role in developing the website, Bataille said, “I don't have anything further to add.”

Snyder also announced that Niall Brennan, now the director of the office of information products and data analytics within the office of enterprise management, will serve as acting director of OEM replacing Nelson.

Trenkle came to the CMS in March 2005, first serving as director of the office of E-Health Standards & Services, where he led federal efforts on electronic prescribing under the Medicare Modernization Act and administrative simplification through data exchange and system interoperability under HIPAA.

In November, 2010, then-CMS Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick named Trenkle acting director of the office of information services.

As CIO, Trenkle “provided oversight and leadership” for $2 billion in annual information technology products and services, Snyder said.

Trenkle also served as a member of the Health IT Policy Committee, which advises the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

A Trenkle trademark is his deliberate manner of speech.

“What a remarkable guy,” said Dr. John Halamka, vice-chair of the Health IT Standards Committee, which, like the HITPC, advises the national coordinator. Halamka is CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston. “I worked with him before he took the CIO role when he had the meaningful use Stage 1 role at CMS,” Halamka said. Trenkle had “a lot of the responsibility” for drafting the Stage 1 rule and well as being “very involved, very engaged” in health IT standards development, he said.

“People thought of him as a very capable guy in general. I supposed he was promoted through the ranks of CMS was because of his capacity to deliver. What I saw, he delivered consistently,” Halamka said.

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn

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