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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Scathing audit? What scathing audit? It's all good!

Here's the gist of an audit of the state's high-tech, high-priced computer system for processing unemployment claims:

Blech!

There were also some details. Stuff about design documentation, operational processing, data integral controls and timely automated claim notices.

But mostly, blech!

It seems the computer system didn't do what it was designed to do, took too long to get money to people in financial distress and may have unnecessarily exposed the Social Security numbers of a lot of Florida residents.

From a customer service standpoint, that sounds kind of sketchy. It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest it flirted with outrageous and intolerable.

So you might have reasonably expected Department of Economic Opportunity folk to appear chagrined appearing before a legislative committee on Monday afternoon. To strike a tone that approximated a CEO's tail between the legs.

Instead, we got this:

Woo-hoo!

No, seriously. The department's representative made this recently released audit sound like a remnant from the Crusades. He suggested all of these problems were old news, and he made navigating the CONNECT system sound as exhilarating as playing an Xbox.

"The audit findings are not an accurate representation of where the system is today,'' said Tom Clendenning, the director of workforce services for the department.

If you're an optimist, you might be tempted to accept Clendenning's critique as gospel. If you're a pessimist, you might recall we've heard similar tales in the past.

In late 2013 — in what would have been the midst of the audit's findings — the DEO's executive director told a Senate committee that the media was exaggerating the extent of CONNECT's problems.

Within weeks, residents were flooding Tallahassee with complaints about a broken website and unpaid bills at home. The federal government had to intervene, and the department finally agreed the computer vendor had installed a faulty system.

That's the backdrop that made Monday's committee hearing so fascinating. At a time when Gov. Rick Scott is hellbent on firing agency heads without cause, DEO boss Jesse Panuccio didn't bother attending the committee meeting to address this withering audit.

Panuccio, by the way, prepped for his executive director position in the employment office by working as Scott's general counsel.

Even if the CONNECT website has suddenly become a little bit of heaven for out-of-work Floridians, there were still economic questions to be addressed on Monday.

The state paid Deloitte Consulting about $40 million for a system that was a mess. Standing up for taxpayers, the state began fining Deloitte until the problems were corrected. In all, the firm was assessed $8 million in fines. And then the state paid Deloitte $7 million more for additional work.

That doesn't even get into the money spent hiring extra workers to address all of the claims the computer system was choking up. At one point, the state was spending an additional $165,000 a week to make up for the work the computers couldn't handle.

That loss of taxpayer funds wasn't even addressed on Monday, and perhaps that's just as well.

Because, based on the DEO's interpretation of the CONNECT audit, they would have suggested all of those extra employees was the state's unique solution to drive down unemployment rates.

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