Aug 7, 2020
(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis opposes awarding a $135 million contract to Deloitte Consulting while the state is investigating and suing the global tech consultant for its role in Florida’s unemployment website fiasco.
But there isn’t much he, individually, can do about it, he said.
“Two things. One, the bid’s being protested,” DeSantis said Friday during an Orlando roundtable. “Two, as governor, if you look at the law, I’m not allowed to be involved in that anyway. There’s good reason for that.”
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) announced this week Deloitte had edged out four other companies, including IBM and Accenture, to win a seven-year, $135 million contract to modernize Florida’s Medicaid database.
Deloitte won a $40 million contract in 2011 to build Florida’s CONNECT unemployment website, which ended up costing $77 million to launch in 2013.
The system collapsed in March when the state’s unemployment rate tripled to 12.9 percent, leaving hundreds of thousands of newly jobless Floridians waiting weeks for their first checks.
The state has spent more than $100 million to upgrade the system, which DeSantis called the “the equivalent of throwing a jalopy into the Daytona 500,” by purchasing 72 servers, reassigning 2,000 state workers and contracting thousands of private call center employees to assist.
In May, DeSantis asked Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate the contract. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) has sued Deloitte and fined it $8 million.
A class-action lawsuit also has been filed on behalf of laid-off workers seeking damages from Deloitte.
In response to lawsuits, Deloitte maintains it’s had “no connection” to the system in more than five years and is not responsible for failures since March.
AHCA’s contract with Deloitte drew immediate and widespread scorn and rebuke, especially from Democrats eager to exploit the mess during an election year.
DeSantis said count him among the deal’s harshest critics.
“I don’t like it,” he said, noting he preferred “they not get anything.”
His hands are tied, however, by the state’s competitive procurement process, the governor said.
“There’s a process, unfortunately, that has to play out,” DeSantis said. “I can’t go in and just void it legally, but I think most Floridians want answers on unemployment, and I think that should happen before any of this other stuff does.”
Until this week, the governor had been obliquely critical of his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who was Florida’s governor from 2010-18 when the Deloitte contract was signed and the site delivered two years later at nearly twice the original price tag.
However, after Scott told his successor Wednesday to “go solve problems” and “quit blaming others,” DeSantis publicly questioned Scott’s judgment – and motivation – Thursday for spending $77 million on a “clunker” designed to make filing unemployment claims difficult.
“Why would you have paid the 77?” he rhetorically asked Scott. “It’s one thing if it’s on the cheap, (but) that’s an enormous amount of money for a system clearly not built for the long haul.”
Deloitte has won several lucrative contracts since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in March to assist states in upgrading systems to accommodate the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program – the $600 weekly payout that expired Saturday.
According to Bloomberg Law, Ohio paid Deloitte $9.6 million and Colorado $3 million for the firm to set up a PUA claims systems. Illinois signed a $22 million deal, and California granted Deloitte a $17.6 million contract for similar upgrades.
The New York Department of Labor awarded Deloitte an $87.8 million contract this spring to work on call centers, data entry automation and other upgrades.
This article was originally published in The Center Square.
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