Saturday, January 11, 2014


Did first lady’s friend get contract?

This Fact Checker article is by D’Angelo Gore of

Ron Knecht, a regent with the Nevada System of Higher Education, wrote to Fact Checker recently to ask about a widely forwarded email regarding whether a friend of first lady Michelle Obama got a no-bid contract for the site.’s D’Angelo Gore looked into the claim. Below is an abbreviated version of his report.

First lady Michelle Obama speaks to the media on Dec. 18. Claims that a friend of Michelle Obama helped secure a no-bid contract for the website are not backed up by evidence. (AP file photo)

An email forwarded to 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
That same Daily Caller article said CGI Federal “earned the no-bid contract to build the $678 million Obamacare enrollment website at”

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.

Princeton connection

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.

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.
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 “She also was not involved in CGI business development, proposal development or client meetings related to the CMS FFM program (”

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”
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.”
It’s true that the CMS did not accept bids from all comers to build the 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.
She said on 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.”


There is no evidence that Townes-Whitley’s connection to the first lady 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.
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