Sen. Nelson wants FTC to investigate compromised SunPass data

Aug 25, 2018 \\ Noah Pransky, WTSP
TAMPA BAY, Fla. - Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) says he's expanding his request for a Federal Trade Commission investigation into SunPass to include the 10Investigates report exposing how FDOT and contractor Conduent compromised some drivers' personal data.
 
Florida's senior senator, caught in the middle of a tough re-election campaign against Governor Rick Scott, made the request in a phone call to FTC Chairman Joe Simons Thursday night, according to a press release from the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
 
The request comes after Nelson and Sen. Gary Peters initially asked the FTC on July 30 to investigate Conduent, a company that's had problems launching tolling systems in six other states.
 
Simons told Nelson on Thursday the agency would respond in writing to the requests soon, according to the press release.
 
The compromised data is only the latest problem associated with the state's botched electronic system upgrade, which was supposed to be completed by June 11. Instead, it created an 85-day catastrophe that has crashed accounts, wreaked havoc with customers' bank accounts, and frustrated tens of thousands of drivers who have to wait for hours on hold to speak to a call center representative.
 
Here is a running report card of other SunPass problems 10Investigates has been tracking:
 
Transparency
 
Issue: Downplaying of problems; deceptive press releases; slow response to questions & records requests.
 
Concern: Floridians had no idea how bad the SunPass failures were until 10Investigates broke the news on June 19 that the state was unable to process tens of millions of toll transactions. It was another week before the state even acknowledged problems, and it continued to try and downplay the severity of the system disruption. No public notice was given when dozens of drivers’ personal data was accidentally compromised in July.
 
Response: In the two months since 10Investigates' first report on the failures, FDOT has not gotten much more forthcoming with information. The agency refuses to acknowledge interview requests and has even sent simple records via U.S. mail, seemingly to try and delay their release. They have sent deceiving press releases out to try and control the media's messaging. And the public still has no explanation -- outside of 10Investigates' reporting -- of how six million customers were inconvenienced so badly. For the first time Tuesday, the agency provided a number of documents and answers that were requested by 10Investigates, some more than a month earlier.
 
Report Card: Failing
 
IT problems
 
Issue: The technology meltdown limited access to SunPass accounts, the SunPass website frequently crashes and billing was delayed by weeks and months.
 
Concern: Customers couldn't access receipts to get work reimbursements, got hit with large and unpredictable charges when tolls finally were processed. And the delays mean account errors are very difficult to spot and correct.
 
Response: FDOT, its partners, and its vendors have been working around-the-clock to fix the computer issues, and they have announced there will be no fines or penalties on customers during the ongoing disruption. The toll backlog was finally cleared last week for many SunPass users, but EPass and Toll-By-Plate customers are still seeing long delays in billing. The state has rolled out its plan to reimburse customers for bank overdraft fees. But account errors -- of which there are multiple indications that there are plenty -- are the responsibility of the customer to identify and report before refunds are issued.
 
Report Card: Improvement noted, with significantly more needed
 
Customer service
 
Issue: Frustrated customers unable to get problems fixed
 
Concern: Some customers have to wait more than two hours to speak to representatives, and SunPass' promise to respond to emails within two days are going unfulfilled.
 
Response: An FDOT spokesperson says extra staff members have been dedicated to customer service but has been unable to provide specifics over the course of the last two-plus months. In July, an agency spokesperson touted website improvements and Conduent's reduction of call center wait times. But, in August, the website continued to crash and call center wait times exploded as more drivers discovered unexpected and some inexplicable charges on their accounts.
 
Report Card: Incomplete
 
Accountability
 
Issue: Contractors and FDOT all had a role in system failures; the state is not in a rush to sort it out.
 
Concern: Are contractors incentivized to get problems fixed fast? Will individuals who made big mistakes be disciplined? Will the state learn from mistakes to prevent it from happening again?
 
Response: Last week’s announcement that Florida's inspector general would investigate came only after 75 days and four 10Investigates interviews with Gov. Scott. No scope has been announced for the investigation, but the governor's office said it would likely be "broad." Payments were halted to Conduent in late June, but 10Investigates revealed the company is still getting paid on other contracts. The state announced an $800,000 fine to Conduent, and it said the company will pay for customers' overdraft reimbursements as well. However, no fines or penalties have been mentioned for corporation Atkins, the general contractor responsible for oversight on the project, or HNTB, the corporation that oversaw the awarding of the contract to embattled Conduent in the first place.
 
Report Card: Incomplete
 
Toll-By-Plate
 
Issue: Customers who use toll-by-plate or other mail billing have not received bills yet.
 
Concern: It appears the state has been unable to match all of the transactions to vehicle owners, delaying the posting of charges. Viewers are also reporting errors in plate identification, landing other drivers' tolls on their accounts.
 
Response: An FDOT spokesperson has been saying for months all transactions will eventually be billed to customers "once quality assurance processes are completed." The state finally said this week invoices likely won't go out until October.
 
Report Card: Failing
 
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