With Gov. Ron DeSantis following his predecessor’s lead and remaining largely on the sidelines for the state’s 250-day-old (and counting) Sunpass disaster, one influential state Senator plans on starting to get to the bottom of the crisis today in Tallahassee.
Sen. Tom Lee, Senate Infrastructure and Security Chair, says he plans on quizzing FDOT officials at the committee’s 2 p.m. meeting today, where Senators will receive an update on the SunPass system meltdown crisis, now in the ninth month of what was supposed to be a six-day upgrade.
Lee says Conduent, the struggling, but politically-connected company that won a contested FDOT bid for the project, has declined multiple requests to attend the meeting and answer senators’ questions. His interest in the problems was piqued by more than 40 reports from Tampa Bay’s WTSP-TV.
Conduent’s SunPass failures have caused accounts disruptions, billing errors, and customer service nightmares for millions of drivers in Florida and beyond. The company also appeared to have compromised drivers’ personal information, although it is still not clear if FDOT investigated the extent of the possible breach.
Nearly three million drivers are just now getting backlogged invoices, dating back to June. Many are reporting billing errors, with little help from Conduent’s SunPass customer service centers in getting issues resolved.
FDOT is not currently paying Conduent on its main Sunpass contract, but the company is still collecting on numerous other FDOT contracts. Governor Scott issued just an $800,000 fine for the company’s failures; it still stands to collect on the majority of it’s $343 million SunPass contract.
While FDOT was criticized in a state CFO audit for not instituting proper performance penalties in the Conduent contact, there is at least one clause that could help the state penalize the corporation…if state leaders decided to enforce it.
Conduent’s SunPass contract indicates failures to properly bill customers for toll transactions more than 120 days old should result in the company, not drivers, paying for those tolls.
But neither the Scott nor DeSantis administrations have yet shown an interest in executing that clause, which could cost Conduent upwards of $100 million. Instead, FDOT has insisted drivers pay for those transactions, some now dated by more than eight months.
The state has also gone to great lengths to downplay the problems and protect its contractor, including months of misleading press releases.
Conduent’s top lobbyist, Brian Ballard, is a fundraising heavyweight for former Gov. Scott, Gov. DeSantis, and an army of state legislators as well. The company’s billionaire founder, Darwin Deason, also raised funds for both Scott and DeSantis’s 2018 campaigns.
Campaign finance disclosures filed by Scott last year also revealed part of the Senator’s personal fortune is invested in Conduent.
Lee hopes Tuesday’s hearing is the first step toward holding Conduent responsible and righting a 250-day-old wrong.
Governor Scott, under pressure, ordered his inspector general to investigate the problems in August, but that was the last the state has heard from either governor since.