TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An official from the agency that oversees the state's unemployment-claims website disputed aspects of a highly critical audit that outlined lax oversight of the site and potential security risks for users.
Tom Clendenning, the Department of Economic Opportunity's director of workforce services, also told the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee on Monday that the "overwhelming majority" of issues addressed in the audit of the $77.9 million Connect unemployment system have been corrected.
"We were in much greater risk of failure, of system failure, with the old system, than we are today," Clendenning said.
Clendenning's comments came after a report by state Auditor General David Martin that outlined nine areas of improvements needed for the system, from it not working as intended to screens and reports failing to contain accurate data.
And with Clendenning grading the system's current operations as a "B-plus," lawmakers on the committee were quick to note that problems must still be addressed.
Rep. Dan Raulerson, a Plant City Republican who is co-chairman of the committee, said the state needs to "stay on top of this" so additional change orders don't further increase the cost of the system. When it was first rolled out, many people eligible for benefits were unable to access the system.
"I don't think anybody (a contractor) that is doing valid work, I think they should get paid, obviously," Raulerson said. "But this has turned into a nightmare."
The audit, released in February, didn't delve into the cost for the system, which is nearly $15 million more than projected when the website went live Oct. 15, 2013.
Connect, which had been in the works since 2009, was created to replace a 30-year-old system that was soon to expire.
The money included a $40.6 million contract with Minnesota-based Deloitte Consulting LLP, which could reach $47 million due to ongoing change orders as the system is upgraded.
Clendenning said the state is currently withholding approximately $8 million from Deloitte due to the troubled rollout.
The audit looked at the operations of Connect between July 2013 and June 2014, with certain department actions through Feb. 5 of this year.
From the implementation of Connect through the end of the audit period, there were 10,878 corrections and changes to the system's data.
Among the issues outlined with Connect was the continued use of Social Security numbers as system identification.
The state prohibits agencies from collecting people's Social Security numbers unless the agency has stated in writing the purpose for the collection, the audit stated.
Clendenning said the agency, which has been using Social Security numbers for claims since 2001, is following federal law.
"In the last 15 years no reviewing authority has ever flagged this as contrary to state law," Clendenning said.
Other problems highlighted in the audit were inadequate monitoring of claims, lenient oversight of network administrative access and incorrect payments.
In one instance, a claimant was wrongfully charged for overpayments totaling $16,897. In another case, a claim deemed ineligible in 2013 was automatically approved when the individual filed a new claim in 2014.
The report noted that due to the problems the state had to bring on an additional consulting firm, increase staff from 970 to 1,200 to handle claims and shift operations into a 7-day work week.
When the system was rolled out and complaints started to pour in, the agency viewed the problems as glitches and asked those unable to apply for their up to $275 a week in unemployment claims to be patient.