Florida is spending about $733 million on technology this year out of a $74 billion budget.
No one person or agency accounts for this specialized and technical spending. It’s spread across numerous state agencies, departments and divisions. When problems happen, as they did with Florida’s $63 million unemployment website CONNECT, there’s no one at the state, like Gov. Rick Scott, who accepts responsibility.
Instead, it’s the vendor who’s to blame.
For Sen. Jeremy Ring, who launched the east coast operations of Yahoo! from his New York City apartment at the dawn of the Internet Age in 1995, this is no way to conduct business.
“We’re a $75 billion business without a chief information officer,” Ring said. “That doesn’t exist in any business, I assure you. Nor should that exist in any governmental entity.”
For the past four to five years, Ring, D-Margate, has pushed legislation to create a new IT agency in hopes it can improve upon the state’s troubled record in launching large scale IT projects.
How bad is it? According to an analysis last year for the Florida House Appropriations, since 2003 the state spent $134 million on IT projects costing more than $10 million that failed or are no longer in use. Another $306 million was spent on cost overruns for projects that are in use.
Take CONNECT. It’s not the dozens of defects have afflicted the project since mid-October that bother Ring. It’s that the project launched without getting tested with external groups before going live for the estimated 230,000 unemployed who depend on the system for their weekly claim checks.
“It’s extraordinary that it wasn’t done,” Ring said. “You have to assume that you will have flaws. You will have bugs. So therefore, you don’t open it all at once. You open it to a small beta group. You identify the flaws and then you fix them. As you do more testing, you’ll see more flaws.”