Florida lawmakers call for action against 'wholly unqualified' SunPass contractor

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 2/7/2019

Florida lawmakers grilled the state Department of Transportation over the actions of Conduent State and Local Solutions, the contractor behind the SunPass debacle last year. On Tuesday, Feb. 5, members of the Senate’s Infrastructure and Security committee suggested that more action should be taken, including cancelling the contract.

The Florida Senate Infrastructure and Security committee started its 2019 session with an interrogation of the Florida Department of Transportation over its handling of the SunPass issues that were the result of the contractor’s inability to roll out the new system. Some committee members were upset with the lack of actions taken against Conduent.

Essentially, lawmakers wanted to know what happened and what has been done about it. Details have been shrouded in mystery as FDOT has not been as forthcoming as lawmakers and the public would like.

“What went wrong is difficult for us to really know at this point in time or to ascertain,” said committee chairman Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa.

Conduent was ‘wholly unqualified’

Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, led off the questions visibly upset with the situation.

“I was astounded and appalled at what I saw unfold, and even more appalled of the transparency, or the lack of transparency, until we started seeing more information in the press,” Cruz said.

Cruz pointed out that FDOT had fined Conduent nearly $800,000 after the two months of system failure. The senator pointed out the amount represents less than one-quarter of 1 percent of Conduent’s $343 million contract.

Gerry O’Reilly, FDOT District 4 secretary, explained that Conduent was dinged $150,000 for missing the March launch date. From there, the company was penalized $5,000 a day for each day it was late launching the system, which totaled to nearly $800,000. O’Reilly pointed out that as Conduent sends FDOT invoices for its services, the department can further penalize the company with a 25 percent deduction from that invoice.

Not satisfied, Cruz asked why Conduent is still under contract. O’Reilly said that everything is starting to go back to normal and has been since August. FDOT is focused on moving forward to ensure the system continues to work smoothly.

“For me and for the taxpayers, that is just not good enough,” Cruz responded. “I mean, we picked a company that was unqualified to do the work, and I don’t understand how they ended up with the contract, but they were wholly unqualified.”

“Conduent, in my opinion, and I have no idea who they are, failed us miserably,” Cruz continued. “To work with them and give them the opportunity to do this when they were unqualified in the first place personally offends me.”

Sens. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, and Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, were less aggressive in their stance. Both senators said that new systems rarely launch without a hiccup, and Conduent was no exception. Perry went further, stating that FDOT knows more about the system than lawmakers. If FDOT felt the need to cancel the contract, they would ask for it.

Despite their light defense of FDOT, Perry and Hooper still felt the need to look into changes. Perry qualified his statement about not canceling the contract by suggesting more information be collected and deciding from there. Hooper suggested “more severe language” in future government contracts to prevent mishaps.

Sen. Lee urged FDOT to do whatever is needed for the public to believe that Conduent has been held accountable.

“It’s not just the monetary damages that take place,” We are in a time when there is an unprecedented level of mistrust in government and its ability to fill a basic pothole. These kinds of things just give rise to that frustration and concern.”

Conduent was invited to participate in the session. No one showed up to represent the company.

What happened with SunPass?

Speaking on behalf of FDOT, O’Reilly attempted to explain what happened last summer when millions of transactions were in limbo and many customers were overcharged.

Although the contract had the Combined Customer Service Center system going live in March 2018, Conduent did not launch the system until June. During the transition period, the old system was shut down for a period of time, during which information from SunPass transponders and pay-by-plate cameras was still being collected. Once Conduent’s system went live, that backlog would be entered.

However, Conduent’s system could not handle the influx of information from the backlog. Backlog data of 4.4 million customers’ transactions had to be processed at the same time as live data was being fed into the system.

O’Reilly said that Conduent had to bring in more equipment, such as more servers, and improve the website in order to correct the issue. By that time, the damage had been done. What was supposed to take two to three weeks to fix ended up taking two months. Eventually, the backlog was mostly cleared in August.

“That was the source of all the frustration during those summer months,” O’Reilly explained.

Since going live, Conduent has processed 1.2 billion transactions. According to O’Reilly, the invoicing system is now tested and working. Although some customers still owe toll fees, FDOT is allowing them to pay them off incrementally.

Conduent’s contract expires in three years and nine months.

 

 

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