Company Florida is investigating for unemployment website woes receives new state contract

Author: AP
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News

A Florida state agency announced it will award a large contract to the same company that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly criticized for bungling the state’s unemployment system.

The Agency for Health Care Administration announced Monday that Deloitte won the bid for a new system to manage Medicaid data over four other vendors. Politico reports the contract is worth $135 million. WINK News found the contract could be worth at least $110 million.

Florida Gulf Coast University justice studies professor and attorney Pamella Seay told WINK News there are a lot of questions surrounding why AHCA would select Deloitte, but knowing that the company is under state investigation and the subject of a class-action lawsuit, it “doesn’t look good.”

“To me that seems like a very big hornet’s nest to be involved in,” Seay said. “I would have reviewed that a little more carefully.”

WINK News also spoke with people in Southwest Florida who have dealt with Florida’s frustrating unemployment system.

Mike Dearden of Fort Myers Beach said he’s still waiting for his benefits.

“I’m in limbo with them. I’ve given up hope,” Dearden said Thursday.

He doesn’t think it’s a good idea that the state would enter into another deal with Deloitte.

“If they’re stuck with them contractually then, find a way out of that contract,” Dearden said. “Because they’ve lost our trust.”

The agency announced Deloitte was picked just hours after DeSantis told WFOR -TV in Miami the unemployment filing system designed by Deloitte appears to have deliberate roadblocks to frustrate filers.

“I think the goal was, for whoever designed it, was, ‘Let’s put as many kind of pointless roadblocks along the way, so people just say, oh, the hell with it, I’m not going to do that,’” DeSantis said in the interview taped Monday.

In May, DeSantis ordered the state inspector general to investigate the contract awarded to DeLoitte in 2011, when now Republican Sen. Rick Scott was governor. WINK News has reported that contract was completed in 2013. The contract was originally worth $40 million, but the cost ballooned to nearly $78 million after 14 contract amendments.

“There were a bunch of issues when this thing was launched,” DeSantis said at the time. “People want an accounting. It’s one thing to not have a good system if you go on the cheap, or whatever, but to pay that much money, and then all the problems we’ve had to deal with, is a big problem.”

Agency for Health Care Administration spokeswoman Katie Strickland said Wednesday said agency lawyers prohibit her from talking about contract awards for 72 hours after a vendor is selected. That will expire Thursday afternoon.

A spokesman for the governor didn’t immediately reply to phone calls and a text message seeking comment.

When WINK News contacted the governor’s office, Communications Director for the Governor Fred Piccolo said in a statement:

“The competitive procurement process was created in statute by the Florida Legislature to follow strict legal guidelines intended to, among other things, shield the process from political interference, collusion, or favoritism. Unfortunately, with the ethical distance we must maintain from these contracting decisions, when a decision is made that implicates past performance issues or an ongoing, yet unfinished investigation, people naturally demand action. However, we must uphold the statutory integrity of the procurement process.”

Seay agreed there’s nothing the governor can do to intervene with the contract.

“The legislature can’t do anything. The governor can’t do anything,” Seay said. “The only ones who can are the vendors that did not succeed, they can make a challenge to it.”

But Democratic lawmakers were livid that Deloitte was picked. Sen. Lori Berman said Deloitte’s unemployment system design caused “pain and grief” for Floridians who have been left without jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is shocking that the same company was even allowed to be part of the bid process. The fact that it was the winner of the bid is even more unimaginable,” she said in a news release. “Since March, over three million Floridians have filed claims for unemployment and the vast majority will tell you the experience was difficult, confusing and illogical.”

A call to Deloitte’s Tallahassee office went unanswered. WINK News also contacted the company by email and did not receive a response.

WINK News reached out to local lawmakers, and Republican Rep. Michael Grant of Charlotte County responded saying, “This recent news is very troubling. Our constituents rely on a properly working Medicaid system for their health care and wellbeing. Whomever receives the contract, this cannot be another debacle like the DEO website.”

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