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Florida Inspector General: Capacity for unemployment system never fully tested

Contracted to handle 200,000 users at a time, only tested for 4,200
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Posted at 10:27 PM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 23:19:40-05

The Chief Inspector General's Office has released its preliminary report on the Department of Economic Opportunity's unemployment system, CONNECT.

Governor Ron DeSantis directed Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel to initiate the review of CONNECT in May 2020 after an "unprecedented spike" in unemployment claims due to the pandemic.

“One point that I found to be just shocking is the fact that the contract that Deloitte was selected for was not actually fulfilled," Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, told I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern.

Florida hired Deloitte Consulting to build CONNECT, the state's unemployment website.

Hundreds of thousands of Floridians know CONNECT as the system they couldn't get through, waiting months for their unemployment checks.

I-Team: Fighting for your unemployment claims

The IG review found Deloitte's contract with the state, in 2010, mandated that at least 200,000 users would be able to get on CONNECT at the same time.

RELATED: Company that built Florida’s unemployment site was being sued by the state when it was hired

According to the review, Deloitte's stress testing documentation showed testing was for around 4,200 users, not 200,000 like the contract required.

“That’s pretty indicative of the types of pains we felt early on in this pandemic when millions of people tried to get into this website and couldn’t get through, to the point where paper forms were launched, backup forms were created, leading to the problems we’re still facing today," said Eskamani.

The state issued three audits of the CONNECT system between 2015-19. The 2015 report identified 31 findings and more than half were still unsolved in 2019.

A fourth audit, from this year, identified more than a dozen issues that remained.

RELATED: Florida DEO promises improvements after independent review of unemployment system

“All of this is costing us so much money. I mean the audits cost money, and now the improvements are going to cost money, and if we had invested in maintenance over time, we would never be at this point today," said Eskamani.

Recommendations from the IG report include:

  • Agencies should know what they want
  • Agencies should better monitor what they are getting from the vendor and build in an escape plan and financial penalties for noncompliance
  • Administrative and physical infrastructure needs to be strengthened

“It’s really going be about performance, it’s going to be about who was perhaps asleep at the switch. I’ve got to imagine that they’re looking either within the document or within their notes or souls, to find out really what happened here. Not good what’s in the report," said Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami.

Pizzo, a former prosecutor, is on the select committee on pandemic preparedness and response, which is scheduled to hear from Deloitte on Monday.

“I’m going to pretty much treat it like a trial," he said. “Once we establish whether or not that they are in agreement with the findings or they are in disagreement with the findings, is when I start to get into more detail."

In an email to the I-Team, a Deloitte spokesperson said:

“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.”

“The reality is, there were problems before the pandemic happened but they were ignored. And so we can’t just scapegoat the blame onto a vendor. There is responsibility of the state to say, what did we do early on to hold this vendor accountable and to assure that the public’s money was being spent based on the contract," said Eskamani.