By any account, it’s been a rough stretch for Jesse Panuccio, the embattled executive director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity.
Since mid-October, Panuccio has had to explain to state lawmakers what went wrong with the launch of CONNECT, a $63-million unemployment benefits website plagued with glitches that has prevented thousands from collecting their weekly jobless payments in a timely manner.
But such issues didn’t interfere with Wednesday’s unanimous confirmation of Panuccio by a senate appropriations committee that not only overlooked the disastrous rollout of the project, but rewrote some of the history surrounding it, as well.
By an 11-0 vote, the Senate’s appropriations subcommittee on transportation, tourism, and economic development confirmed the 33-year-old Panuccio to the $141,000 job that oversees an agency with 1,621 employees and an $872.7 million budget. He started the job 15 months ago after a stint as Gov. Rick Scott’s general counsel. He has two more committees and a floor vote in the Senate before he’s fully confirmed.
If Wednesday is any indication, however, Panuccio appears to have weathered a crisis with a landmark project overseen by his agency that has led to the January intervention from the U.S. Department of Labor and left thousands of unemployed without weekly payments of up to $275 because of problems with CONNECT.
“I’m not just going to support you, I’m going to do everything I can in the process to make sure you get to the end,” said the committee chair, Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. “I think what helps me is when this issue happened with the website, unlike some other areas in the state and Washington that just pointed fingers...we took ownership of it and we fixed it. And we addressed it. And I think that that, in my opinion, is leadership.”
There are many things incorrect and misleading in Gardiner’s statement.