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Lawmakers grill company behind Florida’s failed unemployment system

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — At the height of the pandemic, thousands of Floridians tried to log in to the state’s unemployment system, only to be disconnected, denied or locked out.

On Monday, senators asked the company behind the system what went wrong.

“There are people who have said the system is so complex and difficult to use that unemployment claimants would just give up,” said Sen. Randolph Bracy (D–Orange County).  “Was that design that DEO wanted as little amount of people to be able to access this system?”

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For more than two hours representatives from Deloitte, the company hired by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 to design and build the state’s new unemployment website, were grilled about what the state asked for and what was delivered.

“We really relied on DEO to provide the volumes associated with the Great Recession volumes and make sure we were testing to that level and make sure we had a system that could support that level,” said Deloitte Consulting Principal John Hugill.

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Deloitte told lawmakers that it provided the system that the Department of Economic Opportunity requested, a system that was gauged off Florida’s unemployment level at the height of the Great Recession of 2008/2009.  According to an audit of the system, released Friday, the CONNECT system was supposed to have been tested to a “minimum of 200,000 concurrent external users” but that state auditors “could not find evidence where DEO enforced this contract requirement” and that “Deloitte’s stress testing documentation shows testing was for approximately 4,200 concurrent users.”

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“There are questions about whether this was adequate,” said Sen. Gayle Harrell (R–Martin County). “You didn’t even address that.”

But while lawmakers want answers from the company, Deloitte was quick to point out that it turned over operation and maintenance of the system to Florida in 2015.

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In addition, Deloitte stated many of the requirements put in place by Florida for the unemployment system were the very things that caused so many problems.  The company stated fraud requirements requested by Florida but not by other states, such as flagging duplicate IP addresses or names that didn’t exactly match a driver’s license, were in many cases the things that led to improper rejections as members of the same family filed claims from the same computer or as someone left off a middle initial in a form.