Sunday, January 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Bad business in Tallahassee

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.

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Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18