UPDATE: Bill Nelson asks feds for the third time to investigate DEO's CONNECT
If one goes by the daily updates by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the problems plaguing CONNECT, Florida's $63 million unemployment benefits website, are mostly solved. The agency is reporting that it has fewer than 10,000 6,000 cases where claimaints have waited longer than a week, a drastic reduction from a caseload of more than 60,000 last month.
Of course, how much of that is due to repairs with CONNECT? Remember, the DEO hired 250 extra staffers to review these cases, at a cost of $165,000 a week, plus another $300,000 to lease space for the added personnel to work in. For the moment, the DEO can't say because it can't rely on the accuracy of indicators of the system's performance produced by the vendor, Deloitte.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who has twice already asked federal officials to intervene, remains unconvinced progress has been made. On Friday, he asked the U.S. Department of Labor's Inspector General to investigate for "possible waste, fraud or abuse stemming from the launch of a system that reportedly would result in unemployment insurance claims not being processed in a manner consistent with provisions in federal law requiring prompt payment to eligible individuals."
Here's the release: (Update: See DEO's response below)
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Scott S. Dahl
U.S. Department of Labor
Francis Perkins Building
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Mr. Dahl:
Last October, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity introduced a new $63 million web-based system called “Florida CONNECT" to process unemployment insurance claims. Unfortunately, this system - which was outsourced by the state to Deloitte - has not processed claims in a timely manner as required by section 303(a)(1) of the Social Security Act, as amended, and associated U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) regulations.
I am writing today to request that your office investigate for possible waste, fraud or abuse stemming from the launch of a system that reportedly would result in unemployment insurance claims not being processed in a manner consistent with provisions in federal law requiring prompt payment to eligible individuals.
As recently reported by the Tampa Bay Times, the state so far cannot explain why such occurred.
Last October I first asked the Labor Department to look into complaints about the CONNECT system. In December, the department responded that the state had the situation under control and the department would continue to monitor it. I contacted DoL again last month to request more direct intervention. The department sent to Florida staff from the Office of Unemployment Insurance, after which they reported the claims backlog was cleared for processing while the site worked out its technical issues.
Yesterday, when asked for a progress update, DoL staff said the state reported that the 11,000-person backlog had been eliminated.
Meantime the FOX television affiliate serving the Fort Myers area was reporting that viewers there were still reaching out for help. I have enclosed that report FOX along with the one by the Tampa Bay Times that found the state cannot offer a full explanation.
Somebody owes taxpayers an explanation. They are the ones who paid the $63 million for this project. Therefore, I request you investigate for any possible waste, fraud or abuse or violations of law or DoL regulations that have resulted in improperly delayed UI payments to thousands of Floridians.
On Friday night, the DEO issued a retort.
"We have continually worked with (the U.S. Department of Labor) before, during, and since launch, including weekly monitoring calls. This week, USDOL has indicated that weekly calls are no longer needed because of our work to improve the health of the system. Furthermore, DEO's reaction to CONNECT has been so effective that USDOL has asked us to advise California regarding their unemployment insurance program issues that they continue to face.
"Senator Nelson does not rely on the facts. As DEO's daily updates have shown, DEO is exceeding legacy system performance. Further, the Senator has not reached out to DEO to learn firsthand the progress of the CONNECT system, nor has he suggested any improvements. It appears that Senator Nelson is not interested in truly helping Floridians in need, but only focused on scoring political points." -- Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.