This week, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released “APD’s iConnect Contract Warrants Closer Scrutiny,” detailing concerns with iConnect, a central client data management system utilized by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to enhance record keeping, increase security, reduce fraud, and connect APD clients with home and community-based service providers, enabling individuals with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities.
In the report, FTW notes that the iConnect contract became active in 2015 and was first set to end in 2018. Since then, there has been one renewal and three extensions (the latest of which is set to expire December 31, 2022), and the project has a continuing implementation plan that will not end until April 2024. FTW asserts that this extended timeline – in addition to several other issues resulting from the agency failing to ensure required contract monitoring activities were conducted – should prompt considerably greater scrutiny. The report builds on FTW’s regular scrutiny of government contracts and once again highlights the need to overhaul Florida’s procurement system.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro weighed in on the report on Tuesday.
“A series of recent research projects conducted by Florida TaxWatch has outlined the Sunshine State’s history of poorly executing large scale technology projects. Unfortunately, with this report, we found that one of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ largest contracts, the iConnect system, is no exception. iConnect is important to the overall framework of the APD’s service delivery, but problematic contract extensions and modifications, compounded by the system’s regular functional flaws, should be viewed as ‘red flags.’ The agency must initiate more careful, comprehensive evaluation of this system in order to protect and support individuals with developmental disabilities and their families,” Calabro said.
“The situation with iConnect also further demonstrates the need for an overhaul of the state’s procurement system. Now is the time – Florida must take action to create a transparent process that promotes open, fair competition and provides for the best interests of both taxpayers and all Floridians who depend on state services to lead full, productive lives. Florida TaxWatch stands ready to assist policymakers with their efforts to institute this important reform during the 2023 Legislative Session and beyond,” he added.
According to FTW, the iConnect contract was a standard two-party agreement that was scheduled to be active from February 2015 through June 2018, during which time all project deliverables were expected to be fulfilled by the vendor. While Florida Statute typically only allows for one extension of a procurement contract, to date, iConnect has obtained three.
Additionally, seven contract deliverables remain unfulfilled, with most relating to the deployment of a consumer portal that would allow APD clients and their caregivers to access their records – an especially important feature intended to empower them to take control of their own care.
The APD also dropped one of the deliverables for the iConnect project. Although the decision was deemed to be in the best interest of service providers, it was still a violation of clearly defined procedure, wherein the APD should have revised its contract with the vendor and the Florida Legislature should have amended the associated statute, which in this case was Section 393.066 Florida Statutes.
Because service providers – many of which have small staff and limited capabilities – and Waiver Support Coordinators (WSC) use iConnect every day, it needs to function properly. Through interviews with these stakeholders, FTW learned that they often experience difficulties accessing their portal, uploading documents, maintaining records, and participating in electronic visit verification (EVV), a safeguard against fraud.
In summary, FTW makes the following recommendations in response to the findings in this report:
The APD should revise its internal contract management processes to hold vendors accountable for the timely provision of contract deliverables and to comply with Chapter 287, Florida Statutes.
The APD should provide consistent documentation when establishing new deliverables and project schedules.
The APD should amend the contract to reflect the abandoned claims module.
The APD should provide alternative procedures when technical issues occur within the presence of a client.
The APD should host a debrief with stakeholders and enhance supports for stakeholders, ensuring that their needs are met.
The Florida Legislature should consider creating an amendment to allow for electronic submission of information to iConnect.
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