Critics of Floridas botched unemployment website take aim at Governor Rick Scott
Critics of Floridas botched unemployment claims website are taking aim at Governor Rick Scott and his connection to the private company contracted to operate the CONNECT site.
The website launched in October, but it is still not functioning correctly. Thousands of unemployment applicants have been locked out of the system.
We discussed this issue with three people: Army Reservist Albert Harris (who was unable to collect unemployment insurance compensation because of a glitch in the website), Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione and consumer advocate Sean Shaw.
"The state's unemployment website has had a myriad of problems. As you'll hear later, Mr. Army Reservist Harris here has tried to get on the website to get his benefits, couldn't do it. The website doesn't work. There's been a period of time where you were unable to get on it. There's been a backlog as a result of that so even when the website was working now we have a backlog from when it wasn't working. So it's just been one thing after the other and it's a company that unfortunately has been rewarded for it's bad conduct with another contract. So, this is what we're trying to bring to light. The pay to play culture here in Rick Scott's administration. It's a company that is well connected but in terms of the folly of it's work, as you can see from the website it's not very good. I used to work in the State of Florida so there's a lot of big processes that have to happen and they're very complicated, they're set forth in law. It's very specific about what has to happen and in this case the processed happened and the two companies that were left. The cheapest one was not chosen. Everyone unanimously voted to approve that contract and unfortunately someone higher up decided that Deloitte would get the contract even though they were the higher bidder and they had a record of having a bad website. When something smells bad it usually is, especially when you're dealing with Tallahassee."
What is the connection between Deloitte and the governor?
"Deloitte's lobbyist, Mr. Brian Ballard, is a very big fundraiser for the governor. That's about as direct, we can let everybody else make their own connections. But that's the connection."
Let us speak with Albert Harris, about your experiences. You were seeking unemployment compensation, you went to the website and what happened?
"Basically I applied for benefits at the end of September and was told that the website was under construction. So, around October 13th I applied for those benefits and basically it told me it took a couple of weeks to process. I waited a couple of weeks, nothing really happened at all. Nothing came (). Then I tried to call DEO and I was told that there was a glitch in the system. That if you had an old disqualification from your old claim it carried over, even though I was qualified to receive those benefits."
So it ended up where you weren't receiving benefits but you should have been. About how much did that cost you?
"That cost me probably around $4,000."
Is the state trying to make up the difference?
"I don't believe so. At all."
What would you like to happen?
"Pick a better company that can fix those problems rather than making more."
Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione, what do you make of this whole issue?
"Well, Sean, we work very, very hard to try and instill taxpayer confidence. If you talk to anyone, pretty much, they have a very low confidence level in how their taxpayer dollars are being spent. It's very frustrating from a local elected official when I read, especially the letters to the editor in our two newspapers here. And I read all of these comments about how elected officials aren't trustworthy and how we're not good stewards of their taxpayer dollar. And then something like this where we have thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who can't receive a benefit because of a contract that was awarded, and a contractor who can't perform. It really destroys that confidence level and we work at a local level so hard to make sure that our contracts, that the city, anybody who follows city council or watches the proceedings, we're very, very hard on our contract administration division to make sure that policies are being followed, that the bid process is transparent and fair and accountable and that the companies that are awarded work can perform at the level they say they can perform. To have a story like this coming out of Tallahassee just erodes all of the hard work that we do here locally."