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Crist: Scott's disclosure of website issues is "outright deception"

It's been remarked before about how the troubles with the state's new $63-million unemployment website resemble those of the federal website

Charlie Crist, Rick Scott's opponent in the 2014 gubernatorial race, spotlighted that comparison on Thursday in an interview with the Times/Herald and said it's much worse in Florida.

"What I see from the Obama administration is an acknowledgment of a problem," Crist said. "What I see here in Florida is a pattern of non-transparency and outright deception. It's night and day, with the Obama administration being the day and the Scott administration being night. It's the people's right to know what's going on."

Since the launch of the CONNECT website, thousands of recipients have complained about glitches and delayed processing in claims. While state officials say that the technical issues are getting resolved, they acknowledge problems persist.

Meanwhile, the agency that oversees the website has hardly been forthcoming. An internal memo leaked to the Times/Herald in October instructed Department of Economic Opportunity employees not to talk to reporters or "convey the wrong message to the public, so please do not advise claimants that the system is down unless official word from management is received." When asked days after the troubled launch of the website if the contractor, Deloitte Consulting, had been put on notice for non-performance, a DEO spokeswoman, Jessica Sims, replied back with a non-answer to the question. Later, the Times/Herald discovered she also didn't disclose the letter from DEO to Deloitte that in fact put it on notice for non-performance.

Another DEO spokeswoman, Monica Russell, later apologized for the non-disclosure.

In public records requests, the DEO has repeatedly charged the Times/Herald hefty sums of money that Crist says are hard to believe.

For instance, in October, the Times/Herald requested the emails of four DEO employees involved in the website project. Although the DEO initially estimated the cost of the request to be $157, it later upped the amount another $900.72.

Crist couldn't believe the DEO was charging $1,057.

"That's insane," Crist said. "Those emails belong to the people of Florida."

To him, however, it was emblamatic of how Scott is handling the issue. 

"The Scott administration won't answer questions," Crist said. 

When asked for a response to Crist, the governor's office referred the Times/Herald to a DEO statement from Wednesday.

"I will not rest until our contractor, Deloitte Consulting, has delivered the system Floridians were promised," said DEO executive director, Jesse Panuccio, in a statement.

Since mid-October, the Times/Herald has asked repeatedly for the number of claimants who have been unable to receive benefits because of problems with CONNECT. On Thursday, Russell said there's no way to differentiate those from people who are ineligible.

In other words, who knows?