Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

After scathing SunPass report, Florida transportation secretary asks for follow-up

The report found a lack of oversight and controls by the department.
Kevin J. Thibault, left, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times]
Kevin J. Thibault, left, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. [OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES | Times]
Published Dec. 5, 2019
Updated Dec. 5, 2019

Florida transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault said his inspector general is following up on a scathing report about the botched rollout of the overhauled SunPass system.

Thibault said he asked his inspector general to review the report and come up with additional recommendations after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, faulted the department and private contractors for cost overruns and a lack of oversight of the nearly $350 million project.

Thibault said the lack of controls over the private contractor, Conduent State & Local Solutions, was the biggest lesson from the report.

“That, by far, is my biggest takeaway: making sure we have those controls in place,” Thibault told the Times/Herald in a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday. “I am extremely confident that with the leadership team we have in place, we won’t have a repeat of that issue.”

READ THE REPORT

Last year, Conduent took over processing tolls along the majority of Florida’s highways and badly botched the job. The company’s software was completely overwhelmed, and thousands of customers were overbilled or had their bank accounts overdrawn. The state says it expects to lose $50 million in toll revenue this year.

SunPass’ website also went down and SunPass’ locations at airport terminals stopped working altogether. In the wake of the fiasco, then-Gov. Rick Scott asked his inspector general to discover what went wrong.

After more than a year of work, Miguel released her report last week. The investigation found that multiple red flags were raised prior to Conduent taking over, and that the project lacked “robust public oversight.”

The contract, originally worth $287 million, ballooned 25 percent to $358 million, and the project delays and cost overruns were noticed by a separate state agency that then dropped its oversight for unknown reasons.

RELATED: How Florida’s SunPass debacle started in 2012

The report did not investigate why the contract was initially awarded to Conduent in 2013. The Times/Herald found that department officials lowered the minimum requirements and deviated from procurement policies to award the contract to the New Jersey-based company. The company had also hired lobbyists close to Scott.

Two competing companies protested the award. Then, in a highly unusual move, Thibault’s predecessor, Ananth Prasad, paid one of the losing bidders $3.6 million to drop its protest.

Thibault, who took over as secretary in January, said he was reluctant to second-guess previous transportation secretaries, but said he would not have paid off a losing bidder.

“That would not be a thing I would have done,” Thibault said. “There are things I know that we wouldn’t have done if we came to that crossroad.”

RELATED: ‘Serious disruption:’ SunPass breakdowns leave Florida airports fed up, new records show

Still, he did not say he would order his inspector general to explore those issues.

He did defend one of the major themes in the report: having private contractors oversee projects carried out by other private contractors. In this case, the company overseeing the SunPass contract was Atkins.

Thibault said that the department, which is heavily outsourced, lacks the expertise to play an active role overseeing certain projects. He compared the SunPass project to the department’s Port of Miami tunnel project, which was also heavily outsourced.

That was only the second tunnel project the department had done, he said, so the department had to hire special experts to oversee it.

“We’re probably not going to do another (tunnel) for another 30 years, so why would I have that in-house?” he said. “We need the skill sets that others can provide.”

RELATED: Florida won’t renew SunPass contract with troubled contractor, transportation secretary says

The inspector general noted that Atkins employees told Conduent that its tests leading up to the SunPass takeover were inadequate. But the report did not draw any conclusions about Atkins’ performance, and Thibault said the department was not in the process of taking any action against the company.

Atkins has been paid about $92 million for its contract, state records show. Along with oversight of the SunPass contract, the scope of Atkins’ contract with the state requires the company to perform an array of engineering and consulting services related to the state’s toll operations.

The department has fined Conduent more than $10 million since last year’s debacle, and Thibault said the second half of the company’s seven-year contract would not be automatically renewed.

For the next phase of the contract, the department is considering adhering to one of the chief inspector general’s recommendations: breaking up the contract into smaller, more manageable parts, he said.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Visitors head to Florida's Old Capitol building on Tuesday, the first day of the annual session. The same day, the advocacy group Equality Florida denounced four bills filed by Republican lawmakers, calling them “the most overtly anti-LGBTQ agenda from the Florida legislature in recent memory.” [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Most of the bills try to eliminate local ordinances, and Republicans say they’ve been unfairly labeled.
  2. Attorney Joseph Bondy tweeted this photo of his client, Lev Parnas (right) with former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi on Friday, Jan. 17. Bondi on Friday was named on of President Donald Trump's impeachment lawyers. [Twitter]
    Parnas’ lawyer tweeted out the photo of the former Florida attorney general along with #TheyAllKnew.
  3. Florida Senator Rob Bradley, R- Fleming Island, watches the action on the first day of the session, 1/14/2020.  [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    A popular bill would allow judges to dole out punishments less than the mandatory minimum sentences spelled out in state law for many drug crimes if the defendant meets certain criteria.
  4. Vice President Mike Pence take selfies with supporters after giving a campaign speech during the "Keep America Great" rally at the Venetian Event Center at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, January 16, 2020.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    ‘Come November the American people are going to have our say,’ Pence said.
  5. Rep. Stan McClain, an Ocala Republican, presents a bill that would allow Florida public colleges and universities to sponsor charter schools, during a January 2020 meeting of the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    Alternative authorizers have been found unconstitutional in the past. But that isn’t stopping the effort.
  6. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, members of the Florida Cabinet, left, and the Florida Supreme Court, right, stand at attention as the colors are posted in the Florida Senate during the first day of the Florida legislative session in Tallahassee, Tuesday, January 14, 2020.  [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    The court ruled that Amendment 4‘s “all terms of sentence” include the payment of all court fees, fines and restitution.
  7. Thousands rallied and marched from the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center to the Florida Historic Capitol to demand more money for public schools Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Thousands of school workers from around the state thronged Florida's Capitol on Monday to press Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature to more than double the nearly $1 billion the governor is proposing for teacher raises and bonuses.  (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP) [TORI LYNN SCHNEIDER  |  AP]
    The PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee cutting exercise would come in nearly 25 percent below Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal.
  8. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,, center, speaks as fellow candidates businessman Tom Steyer, from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. listen, Tuesday during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
    The candidates’ proposals reveal differences in how they plan to approach the issue.
  9. Vice President Mike Pence points to supporters before speaking during a campaign rally at the Huntington Center, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) [TONY DEJAK  |  AP]
    Vice President Mike Pence will take the stage in New Tampa, at the Venetian Event Center at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, at 1:30 p.m. It wasn’t planned that way.
  10. <Samsung D70 / D75 / S730 / S750>
    For the first time since he was nominated by Gov. Ron DeSantis for the job of Florida Surgeon General, Scott Rivkees appeared before senators to answer questions that have been percolating for nine...
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement