A week before the botched launch of Florida's new unemployment benefits website, state senators grilled an agency chief and heard no warning about the chaos to come.
The CONNECT project was well managed and extensive testing showed system failure was unlikely, said Tom Clendenning, director of the Department of Economic Opportunity's workforce services.
"This has been carefully planned out," Clendenning said, smiling broadly during an Oct. 9 Senate hearing. "You can never be too 100 percent bulletproof, so we do have a contingency if in fact the new system isn't ready."
Six days later, the $63 million CONNECT website launched so riddled with technical glitches that it has left thousands of unemployed Floridians without the money they need for food, rent and bills.
The problems were so bad that the DEO began fining the contractor $15,000 a day and federal officials intervened, convincing the state to pay the back claims so claimants could get their money. Two months after CONNECT's debut, so many claims remained unpaid that the DEO hired an extra 330 employees, at a cost of $165,000 a week...The only good thing that could be said about this disaster was that at least 330 new jobs were filled, however temporary.
...The main contractor of the project, Deloitte Consulting, won the bid to modernize Florida's unemployment compensation system by beating out nine other firms. In early 2011, the company negotiated with Florida that it could do all the work for $39.8 million and finish by December 2012, a deadline it blew — badly. (note: the rollout was finally done in October 2013, which tells you how bad)
As contracts go, this wasn't a big one for Deloitte Consulting, a U.S. company that's part of an international British conglomerate better known as Deloitte & Touche. Since 2007, Deloitte Consulting has won $283.4 million in contracts with Florida agencies.
Its interests are protected by one of the most powerful lobbyists in Tallahassee, Brian Ballard, a major campaign fundraiser for Gov. Rick Scott and other GOP officials...Nah, nothing to see here, just another living-off-the-government-teat private firm allied with a political party that's openly accusing the unemployed of being lazy free-loaders. Nothing to see, move along move along...
...McCullion put Deloitte on notice that the contract would be terminated unless an agreement was reached on how to conclude the project, alluding to the company's problems in other states, such as California, New Mexico and Massachusetts, with launching a similar system for unemployment benefits.
"Deloitte's demonstrated inability to implement the solution in other jurisdictions has undermined the (DEO's) confidence that Deloitte will successfully complete the (project)," McCullion wrote on June 15, 2012. "The Department contracted for a viable, proven solution. It now appears that the Department is being asked to fund a software development project with limited prospects for success."
One week later, though, the DEO approved Deloitte's final design. On July 13, Deloitte and the DEO signed a new agreement that stated the contractor has "demonstrated its willingness and ability to perform in adherence to the contract terms and condition."
By the time Panuccio, a lawyer by training with no administrative experience, became DEO executive director in 2013, Deloitte again began submitting expensive cost requests...At the library where I work, we have a constant flow of patrons coming in to file for benefits. Ever since the launch of the CONNECT system, I haven't seen that many of them: I'm wondering how many of them were so discouraged by the foul-ups that they stopped even trying (or if they went to the One-Stop employment centers for direct help).
As someone who was long-suffering in the job-hunting process between 2009 to 2013, I can tell you the benefits I got from the unemployment funds helped. Not enough to cover things like a mortgage and car repairs (that fell upon my parents, and damn I owe them a lot more than just the money), but enough to keep me out there on a daily basis looking for work and interviewing for openings.
For the state of Florida to pay out such an important project to a company that had shown a poor history of website design and launching... for them to pay out to a company tied in deep to the dominating political party of both the state legislature and the governor's office... for letting this go MONTHS to such an extent that the feds have to step in to try and fix things... This story is a bigger scandal than how it's being told. This is a disaster that has been decades in the making, as the Republicans have been the dominant party since the 1990s and have developed enough rot and corruption to have this state on the verge of collapse...
It's not just this website rollout that's been a nightmare. There's been a lot of other disasters that our state legislature are failing to address, that our governor's office is choosing to ignore.
GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT, FLORIDA. Stop voting Republican. You're just encouraging the rot.