TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It wasn’t us— Monday, the architects of Florida’s online unemployment system told lawmakers they were not to blame for CONNECT’s failure amid a surge of claims last year.
Florida spent $77 million to have Deloitte Consulting create the unemployment portal in 2011 under the Rick Scott Administration. Nine years later, as the economy shut down, users complained of widespread crashes, long load times, and an inability to access their benefits.
Aimed at finding out the company’s level of culpability, for about two hours, members of the Senate’s Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response grilled Deloitte officials. They focused on the five years (2011-2015) the company created and maintained the system.
Deloitte, meanwhile, took little responsibility, placing 2020 at the state’s feet.
“All IT systems require constant upkeep,” said John Hugill, Lead Client Service Principal for Deloitte's State of Florida government account. “Deloitte has no knowledge of how CONNECT’s technology has been modified upgraded or maintained since we have not worked on the system since 2015.”
Hugill said the company handed over the program to Florida in 2015 after successfully assessing it for hurricanes and economic disasters the size of the Great Recession. He said CONNECT was tested to handle an estimated 4,200 users hitting keys at exactly the same time, with 200,000 in the system overall.
“That was what was planned for,” said Hugill. “That was what was tested and that was what was approved by the client. That’s how they wanted to build out the capacity.”
Sen. Jason Pizzo pushed Deloitte to go further. The Miami Democrat asked the company representatives if they felt they’d delivered a website that could handle any type of economic disaster.
“Do you really believe that?” Pizzo asked.
“I don’t think there is any vendor that could make that type of commitment,” said Deloitte principle Scott Malm.
“Then you shouldn’t take our money,” Pizzo responded.
The next step, said Chair Sen. Danny Burgess, will be incorporating what lawmakers heard into plans for the future.
“We need to do our darnedest to prepare and to be sure that we’ve contemplated everything that we can,” said the Zephyrhills Republican.
It would cost about $73 million to fully replace CONNECT, according to arecent state report. That might be tough to do with Florida’s already tight budget. Economists estimate a possible $2 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year.
Lawmakers did ask Deloitte if it would offer its new and improved version of CONNECT to the state for free. The company, however, said the install would be too costly.