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CMS replaces departed CIO, COO


By Virgil Dickson
Posted: January 15, 2014 - 3:30 pm ET
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The CMS has moved quickly to replace two recently departed senior executives. The experience levels of the announced replacements should allay concerns that the mini-exodus, which some saw as fallout from launch issues with HealthCare.gov, would hurt agency operations, former CMS insiders agreed.

In a span of just weeks, starting in mid-November and ending in late December, both the CMS' Chief Information Officer Tony Trenkle and Chief Operating Officer Michelle Snyder left the agency, taking with them decades of institutional knowledge. Their departure capped off a year that also saw the CMS' Chief Actuary Richard Foster leave the agency after 18 years of service in January 2013.

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But on Tuesday, the CMS announced it had promoted Tim Love to COO and Dave Nelson to CIO. Love has been with the CMS for the past 22 years, and was most recently acting deputy COO. Nelson has been with the agency 10 years and was most recently acting CIO. In June, the CMS tapped Paul Spitalnic as a replacement for Foster. He has been at the agency since 2003.

Snyder and Trenkle were instrumental in the successful implementation of Medicare's Part D program and many other CMS initiatives, and he “relied on them heavily,” said Mark McClellan, CMS administrator from 2004 to 2006.

However, he didn't expect their departures to be a blow to agency operations. “The good news is that there is a lot more institutional knowledge and commitment to public service at the agency, in no small part as a result of their leadership and the example that they set,” McClellan said.

Love is “a good as it gets” when it comes to people to take over the COO spot, said Thomas Scully, another former CMS administrator who served under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003.

Tony Rodgers, a principal at the firm Health Management Associates and former deputy administrator for strategic planning, also cited Love as someone with deep levels of CMS experience. Prior the announcement of Love and Nelson's promotions, he had some concern that the agency might struggle to find suitable replacements as “the government is not very good at succession planning,” Rodgers said.

What is unfortunate is the perception that the recent departures, especially Snyder's, are tied to the rocky rollout of HealthCare.gov. In reality, Snyder had been planning to leave more than a year before open enrollment in the exchanges began in October, according to Scully and Rodgers.

The idea that Snyder represents heads rolling from the website fiasco makes no sense as “she was a career civil servant and not a political appointee,” Scully said. In reality, “she probably just got tired of the 90-hour work weeks.”

CMS representatives also have denied a correlation between the exits and the website.

However, the idea that both departures are purely coincidentally may be hard to accept for some as the usual M.O. in both the public and private sector when a major egg-on-face moment happens is to let people go, said Evan Nierman, founder of public relations firm Red Banyan Group.

“Generally, any time there is a major initiative that has far implications and it doesn't work out as planned, you're likely to see turnover in key positions,” Nierman said.

Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHvdickson


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