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As CONNECT problems linger and pressure mounts, DEO hires new contractor


In a surprise move, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity announced Wednesday that it is hiring another company to assist with the floundering $63-million unemployment benefits website.

That makes two private contractors who are currently working to fix the many issues with the website. At least for now, anyway, the project’s original contractor, Deloitte Consulting, is still on the job.

In a Wednesday posting on the DEO’s website, executive director Jesse Panuccio announced that a second company, the French multinational corporation Capgemini, was going to be hired this week. With 130,000 employees in 44 countries, it’s headquartered in Paris and specializes in information technologies.

“To make sure we are effectively serving claimants, DEO requested information from additional vendors, and we have received one response from Capgemini, an industry expert who has successfully implemented systems in other states,” Panuccio said in a brief statement. “They will examine our system and consult on its effectiveness moving forward.”

As for Deloitte, a company that is getting fined  $15,000 a day for not meeting the state’s requirements for the project, Panuccio was hardly encouraging.

“While we remain hopeful that Deloitte will deliver the system Florida was promised, this will further our ability to deliver the fully functional system claimants need and continue to enable us to hold Deloitte accountable,” he wrote.

The announcement is the latest in a flurry of personnel moves by the DEO in a sudden attempt to shore up the flagging CONNECT website, which since its rocky Oct. 15 debut has drawn thousands of complaints from users like Tina Cash that it’s simply not working. Its problems have become so widely reported (it wound up on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times) that it prompted U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to repeat a request he made two months earlier for a federal investigation.

Along with the $15,000 fine imposed on Dec. 20, the state withheld $3 million from Deloitte when there were 53 technical issues that had yet to be resolved. As of Jan. 2, 49 of those issues remained unfixed, with another five new ones. On that day, DEO announced it would hire more than 250 staffers over the next three months to help process claims for jobless benefits and another 80 to help handle calls.

Deloitte contested the DEO’s version of the project last week, alleging that many of the problems were unrelated to the website’s glitches. Panuccio fired back that Deloitte was indeed to blame, and on Monday, the company agreed to hire 10 additional programmers.

“Deloitte has committed to bringing additional programmers to Florida to address technical issues and is working on a plan to solve all remaining problems,” Panuccio said Tuesday in a statement.

So if Deloitte was working on a plan to “solve all remaining problems”, why bring in Capgemini?

DEO spokeswoman Monica Russell wouldn’t explain the sudden hiring of Capgemini. How sudden was it? In a Wednesday morning DEO meeting, in which the CONNECT project manager provided updates to an oversight board, the hiring of Capgemini wasn’t even disclosed.

How much will it cost? How was this job advertised? What other companies bid on it? The DEO wasn’t saying.

But costs are climbing.

Since CONNECT launched, the DEO has spent $1.1 million on overtime. That’s $500,000 more than the equivalent time period before CONNECT’s debut.

To pay for the extra 250 adjudicators and 80 call center agents, it will cost $164,700 a week. And DEO officials said Wednesday they don’t have the space for them yet. In Tallahassee, officials need to lease a building for many of them.

"DEO has sufficient federal funding to support the overtime costs," the DEO says on its website. "DEO already has sufficient federal funding to support the increased level of staffing."