Thursday, February 22, 2018
Business

Consultant blamed for Florida's bungled jobless website won another contract after official intervened

TALLAHASSEE — The vendor blamed for the website that locked thousands of Floridians out of their unemployment benefits was awarded a $31.6 million contract by another state agency, despite being significantly underbid.

Suzanne Vitale, who was then the Department of Children and Family's deputy secretary, awarded Deloitte Consulting a contract to modernize the state's system for tracking Medicaid eligibility, even though it sought about $6 million more than a bid by a rival firm, Accenture.

A negotiating team of DCF staffers with computer and software expertise voted 7-0 to award the contract to Accenture on Jan. 31, 2013. After negotiations with Accenture stalled, the panel voted to reconsider Deloitte. Yet on March 5, 2013, the panel still voted for Accenture, this time by a vote of 4-3.

Three days later, Vitale chose Deloitte instead.

It was the latest coup for one of the world's largest government contracting firms, which since 2007 has won $283.4 million in state contracts. It wields one of the most powerful lobbying corps in Tallahassee.

Just last month, Brian Ballard, who co-chaired Gov. Rick Scott's inaugural finance committee, met to discuss the troubled unemployment site project with Adam Hollingsworth, Scott's chief of staff. Around the same time — just after the state publicly blamed the firm for the problems — Deloitte enlisted additional lobbying help from Slater Bayliss and Al Cardenas, the former chairman of the Florida Republican Party of Florida.

Vitale cited good management, not political pressure, for her decision to go with Deloitte.

"(The committee) was evaluating the bids on specific criteria related to the project," Vitale said Friday. "As the executive, I have to think about other things that may or may not have been considered."

Originally, Vitale specified only the committee's second vote in her decision, records show.

She made the call "due to close vote, and other thoughtful consideration of all factors," Vitale wrote on March 8, 2013. More than two weeks later, she wrote an internal memo explaining she checked with DCF's general counsel, who advised that state law allows recommendations to be overruled.

Deloitte, which already worked with DCF, was more familiar with the agency's IBM mainframe system, she wrote in the two-page memo. Deloitte promised 87 staffers for the job compared to Accenture's 36. Further, she wrote, Deloitte's track record proved it was an "established player in this field nationwide."

By then, concerns about Deloitte's work had been raised elsewhere, including government agencies in Pennsylvania, California and Miami-Dade, where the company was fired in 2009 after the school district decided it could complete the work on its own.

By then, Deloitte also was having trouble with CONNECT, the unemployment benefits website it was getting more than $40 million to design and build for another agency under Gov. Rick Scott — the Department of Economic Opportunity.

As far back as 2011, DEO officials were warning Deloitte that the CONNECT project was shoddy and had fallen behind schedule. In December 2011, DEO officials put Deloitte on notice that it intended to fine it $15,000 a day until it revised its final design, which project manager Tom McCullion called "poor" in a letter to the vendor.

When Doug Darling left his job as the DEO's executive director on Jan. 31, 2012, the design of CONNECT was still "insufficient," Darling said this week.

In June 2012, the DEO threatened to fire Deloitte.

When asked this week if anyone at DCF knew of the CONNECT issues, an agency spokeswoman replied that the website hadn't launched at the time the new contract was considered.

"I didn't know about those issues," said Vitale, who left DCF in January to work as a consultant with Cambria Solutions, a technology firm.

When CONNECT launched on Oct. 15, 2013, thousands of unemployed workers were locked out of the system because of glitches and waited weeks and sometimes months to get paid weekly claims of up to $275. It got so bad that federal officials had to intervene.

On Dec. 20, the DEO started fining Deloitte $15,000 a day until the defects are repaired — or $570,000 through the end of this week. While DEO officials say the problems are under control, it is still squabbling with Deloitte over costs. On Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for the third time asked federal officials to investigate complaints that problems persist.

Over at DCF, a December 2013 Ernst & Young report showed that Deloitte had fallen behind schedule and was over budget on the Medicaid project. But DCF spokeswoman Alexis Lambert said the system, which complies with the Affordable Care Act by adjusting for changes in the state's Medicaid eligibility system, launched successfully on Dec. 16.

"The project is not overbudget," Lambert said.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecasts

Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecasts

TAMPA — Bloomin’ Brands this morning beat Wall Street expectations in reporting fourth-quarter net income of $16.4 million, after reporting a loss in the same period a year earlier.The Tampa-based restaurant chain group — which includes Outback Steak...
Updated: 1 hour ago
CareerSource jobs chief Edward Peachey could soon be out of work

CareerSource jobs chief Edward Peachey could soon be out of work

CLEARWATER — The heads of the Pinellas and Hillsborough jobs boards will hold emergency meetings in the coming days to consider firing president and CEO Edward Peachey. Jack Geller, board chairman of CareerSource Pinellas, and Dick Peck, chair...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Hillsborough commissioners ask CareerSource chief to step down or be fired

Hillsborough commissioners ask CareerSource chief to step down or be fired

TAMPA –– Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to ask embattled jobs center leader Ed Peachey to either resign or face termination over concerns the agency inflated job placement numbers with the state. Chairwoman Sandy Murman said commis...
Published: 02/21/18
St. Pete's World Liquors sign will live on at new home

St. Pete's World Liquors sign will live on at new home

A local landmark for a half century isn't coming down for good.
Published: 02/21/18
Investor calls for Bloomin’ Brands to let Outback Steakhouse stand alone

Investor calls for Bloomin’ Brands to let Outback Steakhouse stand alone

TAMPA — A second activist investor is calling for a big shake-up at Bloomin’ Brands Inc. In a letter to Bloomin’s CEO, Barington Capital Group, a New York-based investment firm, urged the Tampa-based restaurant conglomerate to let ...
Published: 02/21/18

Uber unrolls new pool service that could drastically cut fare

A new way to Uber is coming to Florida, but the "Express Pool" feature is only rolling out in Miami and seven of other cities to start.That means Tampa Bay will have to wait and see if it will get access to Uber’s latest offering, which links riders ...
Published: 02/21/18
Clearwater Beach named No. 1 in U.S. by TripAdvisor

Clearwater Beach named No. 1 in U.S. by TripAdvisor

A reigning champion for sand and sunshine, Tampa Bay is once again home to what’s been deemed the best beach in the country. Clearwater Beach was named the best beach in the U.S. for 2018 by the popular travel site TripAdvisor reclaiming the crown tw...
Published: 02/21/18
This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

FIELD OF GREEN: COLLARD FESTOn Saturday you can devote your whole day to the beauty of collard greens. Well, that’s the jumping off point. Collards are the "central ingredient" at the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival at St. Petersburg’s Historic Deuc...
Published: 02/21/18
Pasco Business Digest for Feb. 23

Pasco Business Digest for Feb. 23

Business DigestBrieflyCHUY’S RESTAURANT TO OPEN: Chuy’s, the Austin-based Tex-Mex restaurant, will open its first Tampa Bay area location this spring near Cypress Creek Town Center in Wesley Chapel. The restaurant at 25750 Sierra Center Blvd., Lutz, ...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Hernando Business Digest for Feb. 23

Business digestCHAMBER RIBBON-CUTTINGS: The Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce will have two ribbon-cuttings in the coming week:• Access Health Care Physicians/Dr. Janice Rodriguez, 5290 Applegate Drive, Spring Hill, 10 a.m. Feb. 23. Call To...
Updated: 4 hours ago