Palm Beach Post Washington Bureau
Thursday, March 23, 2006
TALLAHASSEE — In the wake of reports that a private subcontractor released the personnel records of thousands of state employees to unauthorized individuals
overseas, a Senate committee is taking another stab at limiting and having the legislature oversee the contracts that state government agencies can make
with private vendors.
The committee unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that is similar to one vetoed by Gov. Jeb Bush last year.
The new bill would require state agencies to get the approval of the House speaker and Senate president before contracts in excess of $10 million are signed;
prohibit vendors from having any contact with agency, legislative or executive branch personnel until the contract is executed; and allocate $1.25 million
to resurrect an agency responsible for overseeing the state government’s outsourcing of its duties. A similar agency was dissolved last year by Bush.
State officials discovered in February that GDXdata Inc., a subcontractor hired by Convergys Inc., sent the personnel records of tens of thousands of state
employees to computer companies in India, Barbados and possibly China, even though Convergys’ contract with the state required the records to be processed
Convergys, based in Cincinnati, has a $350 million contract to manage the state’s personnel system, including employee benefits and payroll. Convergys has
terminated its contract with GDXdata.
From June 2003 to November 2004, “hundreds of workers in foreign countries had access to millions of images containing the entire gamut of personal identifiable
and sensitive information on state employees which were to be safeguarded under the (Department of Management Services) contract,” said the lawsuit filed
by two former Convergys employees that started the state investigation.
Department of Management Services Secretary Tom Lewis, appointed by Bush less than a year ago, said he is continuing an investigation into the contract
and is trying to hire an independent auditor to look into the offshore work, completed two years ago, which electronically indexed personnel files. He
said Wednesday that he hoped to begin the audit, which will be paid for by Convergys, within 10 days.
Democrats have urged Lewis to cancel the contract and have asked Attorney General Charlie Crist to investigate it, but Crist, a Republican candidate for
governor, has not taken action.
Regarding the requests to end the contract, Lewis said, “That would not be in the best interest of the state. It would take three years to get another contractor
on board, and in those three years we have to keep operating.”
But Lewis said Wednesday he supported the bill (SB 2518) passed by the Senate Governmental Operations and Appropriations Committee Wednesday. It would “strengthen
state’s ability to be a strong contracting party, compared to where we may have been in the past,” he said.
Committee Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano, R-Crystal River, said her bill would rein in state contracting by allowing it “only when doing so is feasible, efficient
“Had our business plans that we have in this plan been in place, we probably wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in today,” Argenziano said of the Convergys
But Argenziano said that dissolving the Convergys contract now would be problematic because, in addition to time, it would likely cost the state millions
to cancel the contract because it lacks protections for the state’s interest.
“That’s part of what’s very appalling to me,” Argenziano said.