TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The company behind CONNECT, the overwhelmed unemployment system that's failed thousands of Floridians during the pandemic, is defending its actions in the final report from the state's Chief Inspector General. The report has now been made public.
This was the review of CONNECT Governor Ron DeSantis called for in March 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," State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, told the I-Team in March after the inspector general's office released its preliminary report.
MORE COVERAGE: I-Team: Fighting for your unemployment claims
The review found Deloitte's contract with the state for CONNECT in 2010 mandated at least 200,000 users to be able to get on at the same time. But the testing was for around 4,200 users — not 200,000, as the contract required.
In response to the preliminary report, Deloitte has now defended itself, saying it met the requirements of the contract for system capacity, arguing 200,000 "concurrent" users is different than 200,000 simultaneous users all on at the exact same time.
Deloitte said the "unheard of" capacity could have cost the state another $9.9 million at the time.
The IG review also included written observations from former Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter, who oversaw DEO during much of the height of the pandemic.
Satter described staff working 80+ hour weeks for months on end, with many refusing to take time off. In addition, he wrote, they had multiple COVID-19 outbreaks in the building and in other DEO locations, multiple bomb threats over the phone, multiple shooting threats via social media, and "Many, many Callers threatening suicide, homelessness, etc."
BELOW IS THE FULL REVIEW OF CONNECT:
ABC Action News has followed the many issues in CONNECT since March 2020.
“I have to rely on the mercy of others. I don’t want to," said one woman in April 2020.
“I’m very lucky that one of my family members let me crash in their spare bedroom because I couldn’t afford rent otherwise," another woman said.
“The bills continue to accumulate," one man told us.
COVID-19 sent shockwaves through nearly every industry and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. Instead, they picked up what many described as a new "9-5 unpaid position" to get someone from the DEO on the phone to help with their unemployment claim.
“It takes 2 minutes per call, and I’ve called 308 times," one man said, about his calls to the DEO.
“It’s really a feeling of isolation and feeling terribly alone," another woman said.
The entire time, ABC action news has pressed the Department of Economic Opportunity for details about the issues that plague the CONNECT system with answers oftentimes copied and pasted from online manuals. In May, the Governor called for an investigation.
“The problem with an investigation is it can provide political leaders with a dodge, so they don’t have to answer actual questions," Ryan Barack, a labor and employment expert, said more than a year ago.
- Company that built Florida’s unemployment site was being sued by the state when it was hired
- DeSantis makes spending recommendations for $4.1B of federal allotment
- Florida Inspector General: Capacity for unemployment system never fully tested
It seems he was right. It’s only now we’re truly getting a clear picture of what exactly went wrong and the extent of the CONNECT system's shortcomings.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the most important thing I’ve ever done," said Satter, in April 2020.
We now know what he meant when he said that after he was tasked to sort through and handle the chaos.
According to the Inspector General’s report, the DEO began handing out paper applications to the thousands of people who couldn’t access the overwhelmed site, but Satter says the forms were 10 years old and claimant information couldn’t be completed in the PEGA system because the forms did not include all information required by the CONNECT system.
He says that coupled with the 40-50,000 applications being submitted each day, the backlog of processing claims was growing significantly.
He also told the Inspector Generals' office, some programming in CONNECT was so outdated they could not find resources to maintain it. He believes the system was already outdated by the time it went live in 2013.
The report goes on to say the CONNECT system ended up costing about $81 million, more than $13 million over its original price tag in the planning phase.
The Inspector-General says agencies need to be better at overseeing expectations and come up with an “escape plan” and “financial penalties” if the vendor doesn’t deliver.
Officials note there were several other companies that had a hand in creating CONNECT and its rollout but say the system has been hampered with issues from the beginning and throughout audits done over the years.
State officials have said it could take $244 million to overhaul Florida's unemployment system, a request DeSantis hopes funding from the federal government can address.
Every week, ABC Action News continues to send dozens of names to DEO in an effort to connect people with help and the unemployment benefits they're owed.
ABC Action News has sent the state the names and information of more than 27,000 people over the past year.
“For more than six years after implementation, the CONNECT system experienced no capacity issues and DEO successfully used the system to administer tens of millions of claims and hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits to unemployed Floridians.
The Inspector General’s report incorrectly assumes that Deloitte was required to develop a system that could handle 200,000 external users at once – that is, at the same moment in time. This assumption is not only wrong, but also implausible. At DEO’s direction, Deloitte designed CONNECT with enough capacity to handle the caseloads experienced during the Great Recession. At that time, no one contemplated – or could have predicted – the staggering influx of claims filed during the Global Pandemic.”