After unemployment fiasco, Florida senators move to punish vendors

It’s in part a reaction to the state’s decision to award Deloitte Consulting a potential $135 million contract despite its work on the unemployment system.
Jeff Clark stares into the abyss of Florida's unemployment reclaim system from the kitchen counter of his Safety Harbor home.
Jeff Clark stares into the abyss of Florida's unemployment reclaim system from the kitchen counter of his Safety Harbor home. [ ELIZABETH DJINIS | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published March 3, 2021|Updated March 3, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — A Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would penalize companies that perform poorly on state contracts, a reaction to the various contracting scandals that have erupted in the state government in recent years.

Senate Bill 788, sponsored by Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, would bar companies from bidding on new state contracts if they fail to meet the terms of their previous contracts with the state.

SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

Florida Senator Janet Cruz.
SCOTT KEELER | Times Florida Senator Janet Cruz. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times (2019) ]

“I’m not picking on any company in particular,” Cruz said, noting that it could apply to multiple companies.

But she did single out the decision last year for the Gov. Ron DeSantis administration to choose Deloitte Consulting for a new $135 million contract to handle the state’s Medicaid data.

The decision generated headlines and outrage — even from DeSantis himself — because the unemployment website Deloitte created for the state in 2013 failed immediately at the start of the pandemic last year. The Times/Herald found that the Agency for Health Care Administration, which awarded the contract, didn’t delve into Deloitte’s work on the online unemployment system, known as CONNECT, before giving out the award.

Deloitte was paid about $40 million for its work on CONNECT, even though the system has been faulty since its launch in 2013.

“With all of this in consideration, how can we allow any company, in this case it was Deloitte, to receive another $135 million contract?” Cruz said Wednesday.

Under her bill, state agencies would be required to report companies that don’t fulfill the terms and conditions of their contracts to the Department of Management Services, which would then decide whether to place those companies on the state’s suspended vendor list. Currently, that list applies to companies that have ongoing contracts with the state, not companies whose past work proves faulty. Deloitte’s contract to build CONNECT ended in 2015.

Once on the list, companies would have to wait a year before they could ask the Department of Management Services or an administrative law judge to be removed.

The bill was approved unanimously Wednesday without any lawmakers asking questions or debating the proposal. It would still have to pass multiple committees and be approved by the House and Senate before making it to the governor’s desk for approval.

The state has seen several state contracts turn sour in recent years, affecting millions of Floridians. In 2018, the state’s overhaul of the SunPass tolling system was a fiasco. Drivers across the state were double-billed, a glitch that ended up costing the state millions of dollars. The state had contracted with Conduent State & Local Solutions for the work.

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In each failure, however, much of the problem could be blamed on the state’s mismanagement. In the SunPass situation, a state auditor found the state wasn’t managing the contract at all, choosing instead to pay another contractor to monitor Conduent’s performance.

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