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DEO's Panuccio deflects blame for glitches with $63 million website

How do you explain your agency’s troubled roll out of a new $63 million unemployment website that has triggered thousands of emails and angry phone calls to Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers, along with  calls for investigation by two lawmakers?

If you’re Jesse Panuccio, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, you blame the media.

“Some of the press stories about CONNECT have been incomplete and focused on a narrative that is more likely to grab readers than to accurately report facts,” Panuccio said during a Monday hearing before the Senate’s Commerce and Tourism Committee.  “My hope is that through today’s presentation we can provide hard facts and dispel some of the fictions that have been presented about CONNECT and DEO.”

What were those fictions? Which media outlets reported these incomplete stories? By incomplete, was Panuccio hinting at the failure of his own agency to disclose all relevant facts about CONNECT?

Panuccio didn’t provide senators with details. But what he did do -- in the next sentence -- is substantiate the concerns media outlets have reported about the CONNECT website since it launched on Oct. 15.

“The first two weeks of implementation have been rockier than expected,” Panuccio said.

Buried deeper into Panuccio’s presentation, about 25 minutes in, it was revealed that the new CONNECT system has failed to match the performance of the system it replaced two out of the three weeks it has been operating.

The old system was so slow and inefficient that about 45 percent of staff time was spent waiting for the system to respond to commands. Still, it managed to process and pay an average of 77 percent of claims. Only once, in the second week, did CONNECT surpass that performance level when it paid 80 percent of claims. The other two weeks it fell below that mark.

“For ($63 million) we better be a whole lot better than 77 percent,” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.

When Hays asked when the state can get its value back, the vendor’s consultant replied: “It’s the time frame from a go live to the actual true optimization of performance is not Day 1.”

Huh? Asked to clarify, the consultant, Jessica Blume, the U.S. Public Sector Leader for Deloitte, said between a month and three months.

Later, Hays asked Blume what performance level the state’s contract required from the vendor. If Florida had 77 percent of its claims processed and filed with the old system, what would it be with the new one?  

“We have service level attainments that are after go live, I mean the go live/implementation date, we have certain things we are supposed to meet, to receive part of the payment that’s in that contract,” Blume told Hays. “Ok? I don’t remember what all five of those are, but they are around claimant processes, they are around performance improvements, doing things better than you do today. So yes.”

Got that?

Senators apparently understood that and other vague answers given during the DEO’s presentation.

“We’re trying to respond to problems we see in our community,” said the chair, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. “We have called you folks here today to explain the computer problems and other problems. You could be a sample of how to testify before a Senate committee. We’re tricky people. We ask mean questions. We want real answers. We don’t like to be glossed over and I want to congratulate you on your honesty in your answers.”

Let’s see if the questions are any tougher during Tuesday’s Economic Development and Tourism committee in the House when Panuccio et al have to do it all over again.