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Inspector General: Florida's CONNECT system wasn't adequately tested

An early report was released Thursday amid a state investigation into the issues with getting unemployment assistance during the pandemic.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — An inspector general's preliminary report has found major failures with Florida's $81 million unemployment network.

Gov. Ron DeSantis' office on Thursday released Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel's early findings about the Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT reemployment assistance system, which has caused headaches as Floridians have tried to get help during the pandemic.

Some elected officials, including Rep. Kathy Castor, have previously suggested the system was designed to fail.

The newly-released report says the system, which was set up under former Gov. Rick Scott and became operational in 2013, was never fully tested.

The state contract required the CONNECT system to be able to support at least 200,000 concurrent external customers when it was initially deployed, according to the report. But, the inspector general found it was only tested with 4,200 concurrent users.

"By not meeting contractual capacities, the CONNECT system was poorly positioned to handle the unprecedented claims volume beginning in March/April 2020," the report found.

In response to the report, Sen. Rick Scott's spokesperson sent a statement to 10 Tampa Bay saying, "Senator Scott grew up in a poor family and his parents struggled to find work. That’s why he worked every day as Governor so that everyone in Florida could get a great job and live their dreams in our state." 

"Any insinuation that this system was not designed to help out-of-work Floridians get back on their feet and into the workforce is false and ridiculous on its face," the statement continued.

"Throughout his Administration, then-Governor Scott took numerous actions to levy fines against and withhold payment from Deloitte to hold them accountable to the contract terms. Now, the important thing is to get relief to those who need it and that is what Senator Scott has done with the CARES Act and subsequent relief packages," concluded McKinley Lewis, Sen. Scott's communications director.

The report also says staffing issues with Deloitte, the company behind the system, caused "significant delays" over time in Florida.

For its part, Deloitte has distanced itself from criticism. In court documents last year, Deloitte said it hadn't been involved in the handling or maintenance of the CONNECT system in more than five years and described itself as an "improper target" for claims about delayed unemployment benefits. 

“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," a statement from a Deloitte spokesperson to 10 Tampa Bay said.

"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 statement continued. "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.” 

The inspector general's new report recommends Florida agencies strengthen contract language in future deals in a way that would include financial penalties for companies that don't comply with the provisions of their agreements with the state. It also recommends moving the future CONNECT system to the Cloud to help with scaling it.

Florida Rep. Anna V. Eskamani responded to the findings saying, "the Inspector General’s report on Florida’s broken unemployment system demonstrates a serious failure on all fronts and reinforces what we already knew to be true: CONNECT was set up to fail."

"Ultimately, this catastrophic failure of the unemployment system could have been avoided and is a result of poor management and leadership by the State of Florida with politicians and political appointees ignoring the needs of everyday people, instead focusing on their political donors and special interests," she added.

Scroll down or click here to read the full report.

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