TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida taxpayers have already spent $5 million on a state budget website that never went public. Now litigation over the failed project could cost another $200,000.
The Florida Senate hired a Tallahassee-based contractor six years ago to create the website to help the public understand the state budget. Legislative officials say it didn’t work as intended and never went online.
The company, Spider Data Services, asked for its final payment of $500,000 in 2013. But the Senate refused to pay, and instead questioned the no-bid contract to build the website that had been awarded by former Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
Spider Data Services’ lawyer, Kenneth Oertel, said they hoped Senate President Joe Negron would pay the final amount after taking his post last November. But he said “nothing has been paid, so we had no recourse but to file” suit for the $500,000, plus interest.
Now, Senate documents posted online show it has agreed to pay up to $200,000 on private attorneys to fight the lawsuit.
Negron’s spokeswoman, Katie Betta, declined to comment, pointing instead to court filings by these attorneys.
In a July court filing, the Senate contends the budget website known as “Transparency 2.0” never worked as promised, and that if anything, Spider Data Services should give the money back to the state. The Senate also says the former legislative employee who runs the company “had intimate working knowledge” of how the budget is crafted and knew the software could not be created as promised.
Oertel disputes that the website did not work as intended, saying Senate employees reviewed it and “nobody complained” while parts of the website were being put in place.
A pair of open government and ethics advocacy groups reviewed the website and asserted that it made budget and contracting information easier to obtain and understand.
The result seems to fit a pattern over the last two decades, with the state spending millions on technology projects that either failed to materialize or were deeply flawed.
Florida spent roughly $100 million on a financial reporting and accounting system before shutting down the project for good in 2007. The state’s new system for unemployment benefits also had numerous problems when it went online in late 2013.