1. Florida Politics

State audit highly critical of Florida's unemployment system CONNECT

Published Feb. 28, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Ever since the troubled launch of the state's unemployment website in October 2013, Gov. Rick Scott and his team have staunchly defended the lifeline for hundreds of thousands of jobless Floridians.

But on Friday, the state's auditor general issued a scathing 45-page audit that joins mounting evidence that CONNECT is a system in disarray.

The audit found lapses that seemed to touch on every facet of CONNECT, which now costs $77 million, more than $14 million more than the previous estimate of the website.

The audit covers the period between Feb. 24, 2014, and June 30, 2014, when 500,000 claims were processed. It identified numerous areas of concern, including:

Security: The agency that oversaw CONNECT, the Department of Economic Opportunity, broke state law by requiring claimants to log on to the system using their Social Security numbers. Agencies must not require SSNs when they aren't imperative, but because the DEO did, it subjected users to unnecessary security risks.

Timeliness: The DEO may have violated federal requirements to pay or resolve claims in a timely manner. The audit found that as of June 30, about 44 percent of the 408,256 documents being processed were in the "unidentified" queue. The agency didn't have procedures to ensure these unidentified documents were handled in a timely manner.

Fraud: Because of lax safeguards, 20,535 potentially ineligible claims were paid between March 1 and June 30.

Accuracy: CONNECT's automated functions repeatedly entered in wrong data, such as inaccurate postmarks on documents, that could help negate a legitimate claim. Other safeguards weren't in place to prevent the incorrect entry of data, increasing the odds of an incorrect cancellation or an overpayment.

Overpayments and erroneous charges: One claimant was wrongfully charged for an overpayment in the amount of $16,897. Another claimant whose payment was rejected in 2013 was automatically paid the old claim when he filed a new claim in 2014.

No accountability: CONNECT had few controls in place to ensure the "confidentiality, availability and integrity of its data." Furthermore, reports that the DEO must file with the federal government weren't being filed, raising concerns that the agency wasn't complying with federal requirements.

Scott has consistently avoided questions about CONNECT's performance problems since it launched in 2013. The DEO's executive director, Jesse Panuccio, at first denied there were problems that might hinder CONNECT. He later told lawmakers that the project's vendor, Deloitte Consulting, which has been paid $40 million for the project, was to blame.

The DEO has rebutted the harshest findings that it broke the law by requiring claimants to provide Social Security numbers. While it argued that the SSNs were necessary, the agency said, however, that it is considering an alternative log-in process.

The audit was made public Friday afternoon, the weekend before the Legislative session begins. But Panuccio had the audit for weeks. On Feb. 16, he sent a letter to Scott defending CONNECT, repeating his claim that things have improved.

"By the time of the release of the audit findings, CONNECT was a much improved system," Panuccio said.

Yet for thousands of jobless claimants who struggled to get payments of up to $275 weekly they needed to pay bills, the audit validates what they have encountered.

Panuccio repeatedly claimed CONNECT was operating better than it performed before its launch. In the year before CONNECT debuted, Florida paid 78 percent of its initial claims on time, according to federal guidelines. But by October 2014, that number had dropped to 27 percent.

The report further exposes CONNECT's faults, said Ali Bustamante, an economic policy analyst at Loyola University in New Orleans who reviewed the audit.

"This just shows (Scott's administration officials) had no idea how bad it was," Bustamante said. "They kept saying it was under control, but this audit clearly shows it wasn't under control."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (850) 224-7263. Follow @mikevansickler.


  1. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attends an executive session of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    The senator drew backlash for the claim on ABC’s “The View.”
  2. Herman Lindsey, a former death row inmate who was exonerated, holds a letter that he and other wrongfully convicted men delivered Tuesday to the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, asking him to stop the execution of James Dailey. Witness to Innocence
    Former death row inmates delivered a letter to the governor’s office Tuesday asking him to stay the execution of James Dailey over questions of innocence. DeSantis won’t budge.
  3. Former sheriff of Broward County Scott Israel, right, and his attorney Benedict Kuehne wait their turn to speak to the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    The vote is expected to be seen as a political victory for the governor and validation for the families of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
  4. Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, speaks on the floor of the Florida House. Grall is sponsoring a bill for the second time that would require parental consent for minors to obtain an abortion.
    The legislation would enact a consent requirement for minors.
  5. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Times
    He could use his position on the Board of Clemency to allow nonviolent felons to serve on juries and run for office.
  6. Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, says the Legislative Black Caucus will prioritize both public education and school choice during the 2020 Florida session. The caucus held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The caucus announced its 2020 goals for justice, housing and other key issues, as well, with members saying they will stick together to pursue them.
  7. CHRIS URSO   |   Times
Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, thanks supporters including Ukrainian businessman Lev Parnas, left, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando. DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    This new fact indicates an attempt to directly influence DeSantis’ early policy agenda as he took office, one that DeSantis said was unsuccessful.
  8. Pre-season baseball practice at Wesley Chapel High School. Lawmakers want to ensure student-athletes remain safe in the Florida heat as they participate in high school sports. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    PreK-12 Innovation chairman Rep. Ralph Massullo expects legislation requiring some ‘simple things.’
  9. President Donald Trump speaking during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS  |  AP
    And few people are on the fence.
  10. Former sheriff of Broward County Scott Israel, right, and his attorney Benedict Knuhne wait their turn to speak to the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Monday Oct. 21, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    The full Senate will vote on the issue Wednesday.