TALLAHASSEE — When former state lawmaker Jamie Grant was chosen to lead Florida’s new cybersecurity office last year, he didn’t like the look of his new digs.
So he set about with a remodel.
Grant spent $391,980 this year replacing the office furniture. Tearing out and installing new carpet cost another $144,705. And $85,042 went to equip the office with a dozen 86-inch interactive 4K touch monitors.
Grant intended the office makeover to give the new Florida Digital Service department the same vibe as a tech startup company, according to former employees. Gov. Ron DeSantis chose Grant last year to be the state’s chief information officer despite his lack of a background in technology.
In July, a month after Grant finished the remodel, the new secretary of the Department of Management Services, a former Trump administration official named Todd Inman, moved to limit spending by Grant and nearly everyone else in the office to $100,000 without higher approval, records show. Grant’s previous limit was $1 million.
The department said Friday in a statement that the remodel was done to “increase the amount of workspace, facilitate cross-agency initiatives, and develop collaborative spaces.”
The Florida Digital Service “consistently works with multiple agencies and stakeholders, which requires a unique, flexible, and collaborative workspace,” spokesperson Rose Hebert said in a statement.
Hebert added that Inman’s decision to limit spending was not related to any specific spending but was “an effort to become more familiar with spending across the agency as the newly appointed agency head.”
Grant, a lawyer and former Republican state representative from Tampa, helped write the 2020 law creating the Florida Digital Service, the state’s fourth iteration of a technology office in 20 years. The law reduced the qualifications for the state’s chief information officer from a decade of “executive-level” experience to 5 years of experience in “technology policy.”
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The downgrade made those with fewer qualifications, such as Grant, eligible. A few months after DeSantis signed the bill into law, he chose Grant for the job without conducting a statewide or national search for candidates. Grant makes $149,000.
Since its inception, the new office, with fewer than 200 employees, has struggled. It’s seen a wave of high-level departures, with top cybersecurity officials quitting their six-figure salaries without giving notice. Florida’s cybersecurity response team, meant to respond quickly to threats across state government, remains largely unfilled. Initiatives, such as the privatization of the state’s data center, have been delayed.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers this year expanded the office’s reach, giving Grant’s office nearly unprecedented authority to review and approve technology contracts across state government. The move was an attempt to avoid further vetting fiascos with private tech contracts.
After taking office, Grant signed a Tampa-based consultant to a $50,000-per-month contract, plus expenses, which netted the consultant more than $208,000 for four months this year. The contract was approved by the governor’s office, records show. Hebert, the department spokesperson, said the consultant was hired to support the state’s vaccine website and was funded by the Division of Emergency Management. The division has yet to release the consultant’s contract or monthly invoices.
On the week before Thanksgiving, Grant’s office released a procurement for a potential seven-figure contract to provide website security. But it didn’t post the notice on any state or public website, making it difficult for contractors to find it and place a bid.
Hebert said it was an invitation-only process for “prequalified vendors.” Records show 19 companies, including Deloitte Consulting, which lawmakers have blasted in recent years for its failure to design an operable state unemployment website, were allowed to bid. Hebert didn’t answer questions about how often Florida has used that specific procurement method.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have grown frustrated with the money that Grant hasn’t spent: $30 million in cybersecurity funding he requested from the Legislature in March. It includes millions for training, threat assessments, infrastructure hardening and software.
“The departures and vacancies very clearly are impacting Florida Digital Service’s ability to achieve its mission,” state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said in September. “All Floridians need him to succeed because the issue of cybersecurity and protecting Floridians’ data is of utmost importance.”
Grant told lawmakers then that he hadn’t spent the money because he doesn’t have enough people in his office to come up with a spending plan.
The $621,727 went to remodel the department’s offices on the second floor of the government-owned Sadowski Building in a Tallahassee office park.
The furniture came from a Jacksonville supplier, Perdue, and included dozens of tables, more than 100 chairs and nearly 90 stools, plus lounge chairs, credenzas, a lectern and other accessories. The dozen 86-inch touch-screen monitors came from Dell at $5,426 apiece, with accompanying wheeled stands at $1,342 each.