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Ron DeSantis doesn’t like $135 million contract for firm that built faulty unemployment system

Gov. Ron DeSantis said he could not legally involve himself in the contract discussions, but that a protest had been filed related to the contract.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday slammed a potential new nine-figure contract between the state and the firm that built Florida’s dysfunctional unemployment system.

Deloitte Consulting was announced earlier this week as the state’s preferred vendor for a potential $135 million contract to beef up Florida’s Medicaid data infrastructure. This happened despite an ongoing state investigation into how Florida paid the firm more than $40 million starting in 2011 to build what turned out to be a frequently non-functional CONNECT unemployment site.

“It’d be my preference that (Deloitte) not get anything,” DeSantis said at a discussion about Florida’s transportation industry in Orlando. “At the same time, there’s a process, unfortunately, that has to play out.”

Related: Firm behind Florida’s faulty unemployment website gets $135 million state contract

DeSantis said he could not legally involve himself in the contract discussions, but that a protest had been filed related to the contract. It’s unclear which other bidder filed the protest, or why. A spokesman for the governor did not respond to a request for comment.

DeSantis said Deloitte undercut the other bidders for the Medicaid contract, which included multinational corporations such as IBM and Accenture. He suggested that Deloitte underbid the other companies to such a degree that the company forced agency officials to give Deloitte the highest score.

“I think what happened is, they dropped the price by so much that under the current law, or however they make those decisions, their hands were tied,” DeSantis said.

It’s unclear what DeSantis was referring to, however. Under the terms the agency created for the contract, each company’s cost was not a factor in how they were scored by the state’s selection team.

Rather, the scores were based on a variety of other factors, including the company’s approach to the project and their work history with Florida agencies — specifically, a firm’s track record over the last five years.

The Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the state’s unemployment system, gave the Agency for Health Care Administration a “negative recommendation” for Deloitte, DeSantis said.

Despite that warning, however, the selection team of mostly Agency for Health Care Administration employees somehow gave Deloitte the highest score, with Accenture placing second. Both companies will likely move on to the next phase — negotiating with the state.

Only at the negotiation stage would the state "review and consider" the company's costs, according to the state's procurement rule for the Medicaid contract.

Under state law, agency officials have to make their final choice based on which company they believe offers the “best value” to the state. The governor is not supposed to intervene.

“I am not allowed to be involved in that in any way. There’s good reason for that. So I have not been involved,” DeSantis said. Talking about the contract, he then added: “I don’t like it.”

A spokeswoman for Deloitte did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When reports of the Medicaid contract surfaced earlier this week, Democratic leaders roundly criticized the DeSantis administration. Earlier this year, millions of Floridians desperate for unemployment benefits struggled to navigate the broken CONNECT website.

The state had to spend up to $110 million on additional call centers to handle the demand, and CONNECT is still taken offline routinely for maintenance.

“In what world do you reward a company that sold a product described by the governor himself as a ‘jalopy’ designed to fail, with even more taxpayer dollars?” asked Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson in a statement Wednesday. “The contract needs to be immediately rescinded.”