Then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott (left) shakes hands with then-gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis as he introduces him to supporters at Republican rally Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, in Orlando, Fla.
(The Center Square) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former governor turned U.S. Sen. Rick Scott are trading barbs over the state’s unemployment system, which collapsed in March and continues to lag in processing new unemployment claims.
DeSantis asked Florida Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel in May to investigate why Florida, with Scott as governor, spent $77 million for an unemployment website that was “designed to fail” and collapsed “right off the bat” in mid-March when the state’s unemployment rate nearly tripled to 12.9 percent, leaving hundreds of thousands of newly jobless Floridians waiting weeks for their first checks.
DeSantis wanted to know why the 2011 contract with DeLoitte Consulting to build the unemployment website for $40 million cost $77 million to launch in 2013, even after some lawmakers and officials called for Scott to sever the contract.
As has been widely noted, among DeLoitte’s lobbyists at the time was Ballard Partner’s Brian Ballard, the co-chairman of Scott’s inaugural finance committee.
It has cost the state more than $100 million to upgrade the system, which DeSantis called the “the equivalent of throwing a jalopy into the Daytona 500,” by purchasing 72 servers, reassigning 2,000 state workers to help and contracting thousands of private call center employees to assist.
In a CBS 4 Miami interview Sunday, DeSantis stopped short of directly blaming Scott for the fiasco, but he made it clear he inherited the failed system from his predecessor.
“I think the goal was for whoever designed, it was, ‘Let’s put as many kind of pointless roadblocks along the way, so people just say, ‘Oh, the hell with it, I’m not going to do that,’ ” DeSantis said.
The governor said he was “not sure if it was (Scott’s) intention, but I think definitely in terms of how it was internally constructed, it was definitely done in a way to lead to the least number of claims being paid out.”
DeSantis did not offer a timeline for when the state inspector general investigation will be complete but predicted regardless of results, “there needs to be some type of accountability” for the failure.
“A lot of these unemployment systems throughout the country, you know, weren’t very good, but a lot of them were like 40, 50 years old,” he said. “Ours wasn’t really old. I mean, ours was really five, six years ago. And it should have been done better for that price tag to produce better results.”
Scott, who had not responded to DeSantis’ criticism or complaints by other state officials regarding the unemployment system, responded Wednesday afternoon on the Fox Business Network.
“Go solve problems. Quit blaming others,” Scott told host Charles Payne. “It’s a tough time to be governor. Some people are leaders. Some people take responsibility. Some people solve problems. And some people blame others.”
Scott dodged directly responding to Payne’s assertion that DeSantis was blaming him.
“My experience,” Scott said, “is what you appreciate is people saying, ‘You know what? I came in here. I fixed problems. I worked hard to solve the problems I committed to do.’ ”
The burgeoning blame-game feud between Florida Republican heavyweights hasn’t gone unnoticed by Democrats.
“Now that the governor has finally admitted the unemployment system was built to deny people their benefits, it’s more important than ever to return to Tallahassee and get this system fixed for Florida’s working families,” tweeted Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, noting the GOP-controlled Legislature in May denied Democrats’ request for a special session to address the issue.
“Today,” she added, “we’re in mid-August, the unemployment system is still broken with thousands of Floridians missing payments and the federal $600 FPUC payments have already expired.”