TAMPA (WFLA) – The newly released report from the Office of the Chief Inspector General found the state’s unemployment system was over budget and unprepared for the surge of claims that have come during the coronavirus pandemic.
The state of Florida paid several contractors more than $81 million for the CONNECT system that failed thousands of Floridians seeking financial assistance during the pandemic.
According to the IG report released Thursday by the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Department of Economic Opportunity often ignored or overlooked the warning signs. The system was also never properly tested in accordance with the contract with Deloitte.
The governor called for this review of the unemployment system ten months ago.
“The state never gave it the opportunity to succeed,” said Vanessa Brito, a community activist from Miami who has spent the past year helping Floridians in Tampa Bay and statewide seeking unemployment benefits.
The findings in the 95 page preliminary report did not surprise her.
“And it gives the claimants some peace of mind,” Brito said, “where I think for a year they have felt the brunt of the blame from the administration, from the state.”
The report found there was trouble when CONNECT went live in October 2013. The IG looked at Deloitte’s documents and found “the number of known fatal and severe system defects at Go-Live were greater than allowed in the contract.”
“We would have known to what extent it was broken had the state conducted the tests,” Brito said.
The report said the contract called for a mandated system capacity of 200,000 external users at the same time.
“We could not find evidence where DEO enforced this contract requirement,” the report stated. “Deloitte’s stress testing documentation shows testing was for approximately 4,200 concurrent users (internal and external.) By not meeting contractual capacities, the CONNECT system was poorly positioned to handle the unprecedented claims volume beginning in March/April 2020.”
According to the report, an audit in 2015 identified 31 issues with the CONNECT system. As of the most recent audit this year, 14 of those problems are still outstanding.
“These preliminary findings and recommendations are being issued to the associated vendors for comment to afford them due process. Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel looks forward to issuing the final report to the Governor following the review and evaluation of vendor responses,” the governor’s office said in a press release.
The report makes several recommendations including that state agencies do a better job tracking, reviewing and resolving IT problems.
“Agencies should better monitor what they are getting from the vendor and build in an escape plan and financial penalties for noncompliance,” the report stated.
“If nothing else this report reminds us that the burden always falls on the state,” Brito said.
In response to the IG report, a Deloitte spokesperson sent 8 On Your Side this statement:
“We are very sympathetic to the challenges some Florida residents have faced trying to access Reemployment Assistance, particularly at the outset of the pandemic. We finished work on the CONNECT project nearly six years ago after the State accepted the system and we met all of our obligations. We have not worked on CONNECT since May 2015, at which time the system was performing well above the agreed-upon standard for system availability and far exceeding the performance of the system it replaced. The drastic spike in COVID-related jobless claims overwhelmed many states’ unemployment systems, taxing even those that had the latest technological updates. Since the pandemic began, Deloitte has been proud to support several state clients that have paid more than $160 billion in benefits to unemployed workers and their families.”