Candidates cite data ‘offshoring’
By Bill Cotterell
DEMOCRAT POLITICAL EDITOR
As two major Democratic candidates called for cancellation of his biggest privatization project, Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday he’s “really disappointed” that
an unknown amount of state personnel information wound up in India.
The Florida Democratic Party accused Attorney General Charlie Crist of winking at the controversy involving Convergys, the multinational automation giant
holding the state’s People First contract. The company has given the state Republican Party $37,000 since 2002, and one of its top lobbyists, Brian Ballard,
is a senior campaign adviser in Crist’s race for governor.
Sen. Walter “Skip” Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Senate Minority Leader Les Miller, D-Tampa, called on Bush and the Department of Management Services
to cancel the nine-year, $350 million contract with Convergys. Management Services Secretary Tom Lewis told legislative committees last week he wouldn’t
do that, but the Democratic lawmakers said the India incident is the kind of “breach” that would justify pulling out.
“This is one privatization experiment that has blown up too many times,” said Miller, referring to the rocky three-year start of People First. The system
has been plagued by errors, employee complaints of long waits on telephone help lines and mistaken cancellation of employee insurance.
“Employees need to know this will never happen again,” Campbell said. “Can DMS and Convergys guarantee that one of these employees’ names won’t show up
on a foreign passport? That some foreign national won’t use it to gain illegal entry into the United States?”
It ‘needs to be canceled’
Campbell, a candidate for attorney general, said Crist should enforce civil fines against Convergys for “breach” of its contract. Miller, running for Congress
in the Tampa Bay area, said state employees have no way of knowing whether their sensitive information is “floating around” computer databases in foreign
“The contract needs to be canceled,” Miller said. “The attorney general needs to do his job, and Floridians need some assurances from this administration
that 350 million of their tax dollars haven’t been lost along with the identities that remain unaccounted for.”
DMS and Convergys last week admitted that some state personnel information had been processed in India for GDXdata, a former Convergys subcontractor in
Denver. Lewis said Convergys learned of the “offshoring” in August but didn’t tell him until February – which Convergys disputes – and the state is seeking
$5 million from the company.
Two former GDXdata employees filed suit in Leon County Circuit Court last year, alleging that their former employee cut computer-indexing costs by using
companies in India, Barbados and possibly China. The suit did not accuse Convergys of wrongdoing, and the company canceled its contract with GDXdata in
Bush said it does not appear that actual identity theft resulted from the use of overseas computer companies.
“I think that we’re in pretty good shape there,” he said. “The investigation continues. I’m really disappointed that Convergys didn’t tell us or didn’t
know that one of its subcontractors was using employees (in) India.”
Campbell and Miller said Crist should enforce state contracting laws allowing him to impose civil fines on Convergys. The $5 million sought by DMS is not
a fine but would partly be used to compensate the state for costs of notifying employees.
Lewis told legislators last week that potentially 108,000 employees working for the state between January 2003 and July 2004 were affected.
GDXdata has denied violating its contract with Convergys.
The Florida Democratic Party, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that Convergys has donated $37,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. Party Chairman
Karen Thurman also noted that Ballard, the Convergys lobbyist, is a close adviser in Crist’s run for governor.
“As the state’s top attorney, Charlie Crist is supposed to fight crime and serve as an advocate for the people,” Thurman said. “Regardless of his motives,
Charlie Crist’s failure to act on the potential widespread identity theft of 100,000 state employees is a terrible offense for an attorney general.”
Crist said his office is monitoring the situation. He shrugged off the criticism as partisan flak.
“I would encourage them to stay tuned and not be too judgmental too soon,” Crist said. “We’re in a political season, apparently, and those kinds of statements,
I guess, are the kind that people make, but there’s nothing to them.”