Report Shows Longstanding Problems with Unemployment System

Report Shows Longstanding Problems with Unemployment System

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s online unemployment system was never tested to meet the demands encountered during the coronavirus pandemic, and more than a dozen issues remained outstanding years after the system went live, according to a report released Thursday by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office.

The 95-page draft report by Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel focused on the Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT unemployment system, which cost $78 million and began operating in 2013. The system largely crashed last spring when it was inundated with claims as businesses shut down because of the pandemic.

In addition to issuing findings, Miguel recommended the state update what is known as the “System Disaster Preparedness Plan” for the unemployment system to incorporate lessons from the pandemic, strengthen administrative and physical infrastructure and consider moving the system’s data to a cloud service “to allow for greater scalability.”

The report was released three days after Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Dane Eagle told members of the Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response that retaining the current system is “not an option.”

In her findings, Miguel wrote that “the requirements for system capacity, as outlined in the 2010 (invitation to negotiate to contractors), were never fully tested nor documented.” 

“The contract mandated system capacity for a minimum of 200,000 concurrent external users,” Miguel wrote. “We could not find evidence where DEO (the Department of Economic Opportunity) enforced this contract requirement. Deloitte’s stress testing documentation shows testing was for approximately 4,200 concurrent users (internal and external).”

Miguel wrote the independent verifications of the system as set by the department “were neither fully independent nor adequately rigorous.” 

She also noted that of 31 findings from a 2015 state auditor general report about the system, more than half were still unresolved in 2019 and that a more-recent audit “identifies 14 issues still outstanding.”

DeSantis, who repeatedly lambasted the system as a “jalopy” and designed with “pointless roadblocks” to discourage people seeking jobless benefits, directed Miguel to undertake the review in May 2020 as the CONNECT system failed to handle the hundreds of thousands of jobless applications being submitted weekly in the early months of the pandemic.

During his presentation to the Senate committee this week, Eagle said more than $73 million will be needed over the next two years to revamp the system.

Eagle outlined a multi-year project aimed at upgrading the process of making claims, expanding contact center staffing and shifting stored data to a cloud-based portal with a company such as Amazon or Google.

Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, asked Eagle why the system issues weren’t addressed before the pandemic, as “this CONNECT system is garbage, and everyone has known that, and there’s been reports about how bad it was prior to the pandemic.”

Eagle, a former legislator who was appointed by DeSantis to run the department in September, replied that the state didn’t have the resources necessary for the upgrades.

According to Eagle, the state spent $49 million last year as the department scrambled to make emergency improvements to the system and hired hundreds of people to field questions about claims. The system was budgeted at $12 million a year.

Ken Lawson resigned as department director in August, a little more than four months after DeSantis put Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter in charge of shoring up the CONNECT system.

Since March 15, 2020, the Department of Economic Opportunity has handled more than 5.19 million claims, which have resulted in nearly 2.3 million claimants receiving more than $22.8 billion in state and federal assistance.

Miguel’s report awaits review and comments from vendors linked to CONNECT, including Deloitte Consulting, which was a major contractor.

Deloitte issued a statement Thursday evening that defended its work on the system.

“We are very sympathetic to the challenges some Florida residents have faced trying to access reemployment assistance, particularly at the outset of the pandemic,” Jonathan Gandal, managing director of Deloitte Services LP, said in the statement. “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.”

5 Responses to "Report Shows Longstanding Problems with Unemployment System"

  1. We had a competent IT staff that would do what Deloitte did in DMS prior to Jeb Bush’s privatization push. Now we farm it out to private companies who are supposed to be doing these jobs better and cheaper. However that has seldom been the case since privatization’s secret is that it is a campaign contribution money laundry that supplies mediocre just enough product to get by and nothing more.

  2. David… it’s the classic “proprietary” scam that local, state, and federal governments fall for each and every time. It’s also a result of the politically-based “lowest bid” mentality. The politicians profess their fiscal acuity to their constituents and the world by selecting the vendor with the least expensive (on its surface) product. Instead of selecting the $5-million base product that will require a $1-million annual upgrading contract… they proudly select the vendor of the $2-millon base product, proclaim their fiscal brilliance, and then conveniently ignore the $10-million annual upgrading contract.

    In this lay the bait-n-switch “proprietary” scam that vendors are all to familiar with, particularly when it comes to computer software Because the bureaucrats selected the cheaper software product in order to highlight their fiscal brilliance (cough), they are then obligated to that vendor by contract and law to only deal with that vendor for maintenance and upgrades due to the proprietary nature of the vendor’s in-house designed software. In other words, and for example… Oracle is prohibited from contracting to repair or upgrade “proprietary” software developed and sold by Billy Bob’s Computer Store. This leaves the purchaser of Billy Bob’s stuck with Billy Bob and his pricing desire… and they all know it.

  3. “Eagle said more than $73 million will be needed over the next two years to revamp the system.” …………………… That HAS to be BS. There is NO Program that should cost over $1 Million Dollars. For $73 Million you can go back to hiring more Staff and do it the way it was done 20 Years ago and get a LOT better results and STILL have money left over. STOP relying on Technology and get back to basics. In some cases, a Pen and sheet of Paper is better than a Computer.

  4. The public is of the opinion that the agency head or in the case of DEO the subsequent agency head is responsable for selecting and approving wack @ss contracts to build and support failures such as our unemployment compensation failed system.
    Actually The Florida Department of Management Services wants the public not to be aware of their all powerful influence and controll over agency heads selections in all such contracts.

  5. The CONNECT system is garbage because it was developed by a company that predominantly hires foreign guest workers instead of American citizens and permanent residents. The new unemployment system will most likely be developed by a similar company with similar results. The same thing happened with the SunPass system a few years ago.

    The Florida statutes restrict the State from directly hiring foreign guest workers, but they don’t restrict the State from outsourcing work to companies that hire foreign guest workers. Gov. DeSantis and the legislature need to close this loophole. Tens of thousands of American STEM workers’ careers are prematurely ended each year because of corporate addiction to the essentially limitless supply of younger, cheaper foreign guest workers available via the various federal guest worker programs, which are nothing less than the twenty-first-century equivalent of indentured servitude. So much for being woke …

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