Hollingsworth: Top lobbyist carries no sway in resolving CONNECT debacle
It was Jan. 8 when lobbyist Brian Ballard met with Adam Hollingsworth, Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff.
That’s not necessarily a freak event. Ballard, who served as the chair of Scott’s finance committee for his 2011 inauguration, is one of the most powerful lobbyists in Tallahassee, who bundles millions in campaign cash from clients for Scott and other Republicans.
What is noteworthy is what they discussed: Deloitte Consulting, a Ballard client.
Deloitte is the vendor of the state’s troubled $63 million CONNECT website, which since its debut in October has struggled with technical glitches, delaying unemployment benefits for thousands of recipients.
Since Dec. 20, Deloitte has been fined $15,000 a day until the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity deems the contractor to be in compliance with its contract.
The night before they met, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson requested that the U.S. Department of Labor investigate what has gone wrong with the website.
On the day of the meeting, the DEO’s executive director, Jesse Panuccio, announced that another company, a rival that was beaten out for the job in 2010, was getting hired to consult on the project. Capgemini, a French company, would be paid $365,000 to serve as the state’s eyes and ears, looking over the shoulder of Deloitte programmers scrambling to fix the website.
Asked Friday about the meeting, Ballard wouldn’t comment, stating client confidentiality.
Hollingsworth said the meeting, which he said Ballard requested, was “professional” with no heated words exchanged.
“His purpose was to come and discuss Deloitte,” Hollingsworth said. “I remember him asking how we view the relationship.”
Hollingsworth said he doesn’t know what Ballard meant by that.
“What I said was, ‘The relationship will improve when the system improves,’” Hollingsworth said.
He also said that he told Ballard that future conversations on Deloitte should best be handled between Deloitte and top staff at DEO.
“That’s the way to fix the system,” Hollingsworth said.
Ballard’s fundraising has never influenced how Scott has handled the issue, Hollingsworth said.
“We will hold any vendor fully accountable to meet their contractual obligations, period.”
On Friday, federal officials arrived to help figure out how to fix the problems and get money to those eligible claimants who have been waiting for weeks to get paid.
Panuccio, in his daily statement on the crisis, welcomed them and continued to talk tough on Deloitte.
“Progress is being made on fixing remaining problems with CONNECT, and DEO’s focus on helping claimants in need will not waiver. We welcome any good faith effort by USDOL, who we have already begun meeting with, to provide advice or assistance based on their experience with other states that have faced similar problems. Working with technical experts from USDOL is one of the many actions, including retaining Capgemini, increasing staff, and working overtime, DEO is taking to fix the system and help claimants. We continue to hold Deloitte accountable and continue to demand that the company take all necessary measures to fix remaining problems as quickly as possible.”