TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A follow-up report on the handling of the state’s concealed-carry permitting process pointed to a lack of management oversight by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but the agency claims it is addressing the issues.
The examination of the department’s handling of the permitting program, issued Wednesday by state Auditor General Sherrill Norman, found the agency needs more controls over employees that review applications for private investigator, security officer, recovery agent, and concealed weapon licenses.
Issues with the background-check process where first highlighted over the summer, as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was running for governor in a Republican primary against Ron DeSantis, who defeated Putnam and went on to win the general election in November.
The Tampa Bay Times reported in June that state investigators found a former Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services employee, who had been promoted from a job in the mailroom, failed for a year to conduct one of the national background checks for concealed-weapons licenses.
The Associated Press later reported state investigators determined that 48 employees had made mistakes in the review process, requiring the agency to revoke two concealed-weapons licenses and an armed security guard license.
The Times has also reported that Putnam’s agency paid $30,000 to settle a lawsuit with a former employee who claimed she was required to meet a daily processing quota and that she had been advised “she worked for the NRA.”
At least 300 concealed-weapons permits were later were revoked.
In the audit released Wednesday, Norman noted that managers in the division responsible for issuing the licenses indicated their process was to verbally reprimand a contracted employee who had been the subject of a “management report” and to terminate the contracted employee for a second offense.
But that wasn’t the agency’s practice, according to the report.
In some cases, it took more than two months for the contracted employees to be fired, the auditors found.
“Our examination of the 15 selected management reports found that 3 contracted employees appeared on management reports flagging issues with the processing of 9 approved concealed weapon license applications,” the report states. “The reported issues included, for example, a contracted employee’s failure to review the applicant’s State and National criminal history information.”
The report goes on to state that the three contracted employees were later hired by the division.
“We also noted another seven contracted employees appeared on management reports flagging issues with the processing of 51 approved concealed weapon license applications,” the report stated.
Those contracted employees had terminations that took from four to 78 business days, following a second management report.
“During the period prior to their contract termination, these contracted employees processed 10,901 applications,” the report states.
The audit also found one Bureau of License Issuance employee “appeared on 5 management reports which flagged 25 licenses as issued without review of all required applicant records,” including one license issued without review of the applicant’s state and national criminal history information.
The division was “unable to provide documentation demonstrating that management addressed either potential performance deficiencies with the employee or any appropriate corrective actions,” according to the report.
Putnam’s spokesman Aaron Keller on Wednesday pointed to responses from the commissioner included in the report.
“We appreciate the efforts of the auditor general and all of the recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented,” Keller said.
As part of his response, Putnam noted that, starting June, employees confirmed to have made a processing error received a written reprimand on the first occurrence. A subsequent error results in recommended dismissal, Putnam wrote in the Nov. 30 response.
Also, as of July, all employees who issue licenses “must meet expectations with 100 percent error-free processing,” according to Putnam.
Putnam's successor, Democrat Nikki Fried, has said she wants a review of the agency's handling of the concealed-weapons permitting process. Fried will be sworn in next month.
Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, has filed a bill (SB 108) that would move the permitting process to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association’s Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer --- a former president of the national gun-rights group --- has made it known that her preference is to move the concealed-weapons permitting program to a different Cabinet office. She wants the program to be the purview of Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City Republican.