The disastrous launch of the state unemployment website is not the only example of Gov. Rick Scott's administration mishandling lucrative public business. As the Tampa Bay Times recently reported, the same vendor the state blamed for blocking thousands of Floridians from their jobless benefits with a botched website was also awarded another contract by the state despite being significantly underbid. At best, the two cases show a troubling pattern of poor oversight and opaque decisionmaking by an administration that preaches accountability.
The Florida Department of Children and Families awarded Deloitte Consulting a contract worth $31.6 million last March to modernize the state's system for tracking Medicaid eligibility. As the Times' Michael Van Sickler reported last week, the bid was about $6 million higher than that from a rival firm, Accenture. And the award came after the agency's then-deputy secretary, Suzanne Vitale, intervened by overruling two separate recommendations by a team of staffers with computer and software expertise.
Deloitte is one of the world's largest government contracting firms. Since 2007, it has secured $283 million in state contracts and wields one of the state's most powerful lobbying corps. Vitale, though, who left the government in January, said politics did not factor into her decision. She said Deloitte had already worked with DCF and was familiar with the agency's computer system. She also said Deloitte brought an established record and more staff resources to the job.
Vitale's concerns, though, should have been addressed by the internal review team. That's the purpose of a competitive bid process and the point of having specialists methodically vet details. The review team initially voted 7-0 to award the contract to Accenture; after negotiations stalled, the panel voted again months later and still chose to stick with the company. Vitale downplayed the reversal, citing her authority to overrule the staff recommendation and a split vote the second time around. If the screening process is flawed, fix it. If it's a formality left to the boss, why bother at all?
Vitale intervened to Deloitte's benefit more than a year after the state Department of Economic Opportunity began warning that Deloitte's CONNECT website for jobless benefits was shoddy and behind schedule. In 2012, DEO threatened to fire Deloitte; it eventually started fining the company, totaling $570,000 through last week. But Vitale said she was unaware of those problems. That shows a terrible communications gap between these government agencies. The state lost an early chance to get Deloitte's attention. And it sent a message to vendors that the bids were controlled from the top. That was the wrong way to bring in a contractor that the state has already had a hard time managing. And it's no way to conduct business or government.