On March 13, President Donald Trump promised Americans they would soon be able to access a new website that would ask them about their symptoms and direct them to nearby coronavirus testing sites. He said Google was helping.
That wasn’t true. But in the following days, Oscar Health—a health-insurance company closely connected to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—developed a government website with the features the president had described. A team of Oscar engineers, project managers, and executives spent about five days building a stand-alone website at the government’s request, an Oscar spokesperson told The Atlantic. The company even dispatched two employees from New York to meet in person with federal officials in Washington, D.C., the spokesperson said. Then the website was suddenly and mysteriously scrapped.
…Trump [had said] that Google had 1,700 engineers working on the project. Google, it was quickly revealed, didn’t have any such plans.
Google’s parent company is a major investor in Oscar. And Oscar, which has roughly 1,500 employees, did build a site like the one Trump described.
…Oscar’s website would have asked users if they were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and surveyed them about other risk factors, including their age and preexisting conditions. It also would have listed a limited number of testing locations nationwide, including some of the drive-through sites that Trump promised. It was designed to look like a government-developed product, provided freely by the Department of Health and Human Services to the American public.
…When viewed earlier today, the URL coronavirustesting.gov offered an Amazon Web Services error, suggesting that someone with access to the .gov domain had registered the website.
The Department of Health and Human Services declined to produce paperwork authorizing Oscar’s donation of the website work.
…The partnership between the administration and the firm [strongly] suggests that Kushner may have mingled his family’s business interests with his political interests and his role in the administration’s coronavirus response. Kushner’s younger brother Joshua is a co-founder and major investor in Oscar, and Jared Kushner partially owned or controlled Oscar before he joined the White House. The company’s work on the coronavirus website [most likely does] violate federal ethics laws, several experts said.
… First, companies are generally not supposed to work for the federal government for free, though some exceptions can be made in a national emergency. “The concern, when you have some free services, is that it makes the government beholden to the company.”
…Any Kushner involvement [violates] the “impartiality rule,” which requires federal employees to refrain from making decisions when they even appear to involve a conflict of interest. The rule also prohibits federal employees from making a decision in which close relatives may have a financial stake.
Are we through the looking glass? Pretty sure the White House is peopled by comic book villains.