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Florida’s chief information officer spent more than $ 391,000 to replace existing furniture and more than $ 85,000 for 85-inch touchscreens at the new state’s tech office. Former employees said the intention was to make the office look like a tech startup.

Photo courtesy of a former government employee

When former state lawmaker Jamie Grant was chosen to lead Florida’s new cybersecurity office last year, he didn’t like the look of his new digs.

He therefore embarked on a renovation.

Grant spent $ 391,980 this year to replace office furniture. The removal and installation of a new carpet cost an additional $ 144,705. And $ 85,042 went to outfit the office with a dozen 86-inch 4K interactive touch monitors.

Grant intended to give the office a makeover to give the new Florida Digital Service the same vibe as a tech startup, according to former employees. Governor Ron DeSantis chose Grant last year to be the state’s chief information officer despite his lack of tech savvy.

In July, a month after Grant completed the renovation, the new secretary of the Department of Management Services, a former Trump administration official named Todd Inman, decided to limit spending on Grant and nearly everyone else. from the office to $ 100,000 without higher approval, the records show. Grant’s previous limit was $ 1 million.

The department said in a statement Friday that the redesign was done to “increase the amount of workspace, facilitate interagency initiatives and develop spaces for collaboration.”

The Florida Digital Service “is constantly working with multiple agencies and stakeholders, which requires a single, flexible and collaborative workspace,” spokesperson Rose Hebert said in a statement.

Hebert added that Inman’s decision to limit spending was not tied to any specific spending but was “an effort to familiarize himself with the agency’s spending as the new agency head.”

Grant, a lawyer and former Republican state representative in Tampa, helped draft the 2020 law creating the Florida Digital Service, the state’s fourth iteration of a tech bureau in 20 years. The law reduced the qualifications of the state chief information officer from a decade of “executive level” experience to five years of “technology policy” experience.

The downgrade made those with fewer qualifications, like Grant, eligible. A few months after DeSantis enacted the bill, he picked Grant for the job without first doing a state-wide or country-wide candidate search. The grant is $ 149,000.

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Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, and Senator Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, listen to the debate in the Florida Senate last year. Scott keeler Tampa Bay weather

Since its inception, the new office, with fewer than 200 employees, has struggled. There has been a wave of high-profile departures, with senior cybersecurity officials quitting their six-figure salaries without warning. The Florida Cyber ​​Security Response Team, which is supposed to respond quickly to threats across state government, remains largely unoccupied. Initiatives, such as the privatization of the state data center, have been delayed.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers this year have broadened the scope of the office, giving Grant’s office almost unprecedented authority to review and approve technology contracts across state government. The move was aimed at avoiding further fiascos with private technology contracts.

After taking office, Grant signed a $ 50,000 per month contract with a Tampa-based consultant, plus expenses, which earned the consultant more than $ 208,000 for four months this year. The contract was approved by the governor’s office, according to records. Hebert, the spokesperson for the department, said the consultant was hired to support the state’s vaccine website and was funded by the Emergency Management Division. The division has yet to publish the consultant’s contract or monthly invoices.

The week before Thanksgiving, Grant’s office issued a tender for a potential seven-figure contract to keep the website safe. But he didn’t post the notice on any state or public websites, making it difficult for contractors to find him and make an offer.

Hebert said it was an invitation-only process for “prequalified suppliers”. Records show that 19 companies, including Deloitte Consulting, which lawmakers have criticized in recent years for failing to design a functioning unemployment website, have been allowed to bid. Hebert did not respond to questions about how often Florida has used this specific procurement method.

Meanwhile, lawmakers became frustrated with the money Grant didn’t spend: the $ 30 million in cybersecurity funding he requested from the Legislature in March. It includes millions for training, threat assessments, infrastructure strengthening, and software.

“Departures and vacancies are having a very clear impact on Florida Digital Service’s ability to fulfill its mission,” State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando said in September. “All Floridians need him to be successful because the issue of cybersecurity and data protection for Floridians is of the utmost importance.”

Grant then told lawmakers he didn’t spend the money because he didn’t have enough people in his office to come up with a spending plan.

The $ 621,727 was used to renovate the ministry’s offices on the second floor of the government-owned Sadowski building in an office park in Tallahassee.

The furniture came from a Jacksonville vendor, Perdue, and included dozens of tables, over 100 chairs, nearly 90 stools, as well as lounge chairs, splashbacks, a lectern, and other accessories. The dozen 86-inch touchscreen monitors came from Dell at $ 5,426 apiece, with caster stands at $ 1,342 each.

This story was originally published December 10, 2021 2:21 pm.


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