Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared to moderate his tone this week about the troubled state unemployment portal and the contractor hired to lead its creation.
The Governor told reporters he’s still reviewing the draft Inspector General report investigating CONNECT and Deloitte Consulting. However, his messaging sounded like it was shifting from being highly critical to throwing CONNECT a bone or two.
DeSantis, who has in the past criticized the unemployment portal as designed to fail, instead pointed out Monday that struggling unemployment systems weren’t unique to Florida.
“As you’ve seen in these other states, everyone had problems with it,” he said. “This is really a Black Swan event. It was not like a typical recession. You stopped the economy.”
The Governor recalled attending The Players Championship golf tournament a year ago next week.
“They just stopped it and other things stopped that weekend, and that threw hundreds of thousands of people out of work,” DeSantis said.
Some problems still lied in the system’s “architecture,” which checks against Social Security and other programs to prevent fraud. The volume of applicants made it difficult for the portal to check across those connections, DeSantis said.
Tens of thousands of jobless Floridians attempted to log in to the unemployment portal each day at the peak of the technical troubles. Many were locked out of their accounts and struggled to reach the right individuals on help lines.
In an interview with CBS 4 Miami last year, DeSantis said the failed CONNECT system was built with “roadblocks” meant to yield “the least number of claims being paid out” as possible. To help ease the process, the Governor asked the Department of Economic Opportunity to waive requirements that people check in every two weeks to re-certify that they are still looking for work.
However, he reaffirmed that the state made the correct choice to keep fraud checks in place.
“Some of these states that didn’t do that, you have tens of millions of dollars in fraud in places like California,” DeSantis said. “Our view was we’ve got to verify it’s a real person. I can’t have the people of Florida paying millions of dollars to Nigerian princes. It just ain’t going to happen.”
In May, DeSantis asked the Inspector General to investigate the CONNECT system and the contract that led to its creation.
Deloitte Consulting earned the largest share of the $77 million the state spent to set up CONNECT under then-Gov. Rick Scott. In court documents last year, Deloitte distanced itself from the system, arguing it has had “no connection” to the online system in more than five years.
But according to Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel‘s initial findings, released Thursday, the problems began under Deloitte’s oversight.
Contractors were supposed to stress test the system for a minimum of 200,000 concurrent external users. According to Miguel, DEO did not enforce that contract, and Deloitte tested for only 4,200 concurrent users, both internal and external.
Now, DEO is requesting $32.9 million to modernize the Reemployment Assistance website.
Deloitte consultants will give a presentation about CONNECT before the Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response Monday. That comes mere days after the IG report, opening the door to more questions from senators.