The state of Florida employs close to 100-thousand people across 35 agencies. And all of those employees are paid using the same accounting system the state created when Jimmy Carter was President. Watchdog groups, lawmakers and former agency heads are warning Floridians of the system’s limitations and the possibility of a system crash.
The Florida Accounting Information Resource, or FLAIR for short, was created to manage the state’s payroll, inventory and expenses in 1979. And Christina Smith, the Director of Accounting and Auditing at the Department of Financial Services likened learning how to use FLAIR’s 35-year old software to speaking a dead language.
“I had a cheat sheet that told me the numbers that I needed to plug in and that cheat sheet was fifty pages long. As I would do the bills, depending on what bill I was paying, I would know what codes to put in. So, it takes time to learn the numbers,” Smith said.
The state pays to train programmers and users like Smith to learn FLAIR, sometimes taking as much as two years to get them up to speed. And Jack Miles, former Secretary for Florida’s Department of Management Services, said that’s not the only extra expense associated with FLAIR. He contended that agencies often waste resources creating new technologies to make their own systems compatible with FLAIR.
“So, you have modern – relatively modern technology in My Florida Marketplace as well as People First and you have very, very outdated technology that you have to feed. Therefore you’ve got middleware that you have to create in order to, my words here, kind of dumb it down,” Miles explained.
So why hasn’t the state moved to change FLAIR? Actually, it has – at great expense and to little avail. During former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s tenure, the state spent close to 100-million taxpayer dollars on a failed replacement. And Umatilla Republican State Senator Alan Hays thinks that might make officials wary of another attempt to change the accounting system.
“The staff that was here when that project bombed certainly remembers it and you know that’s one of the fortunate things is we have very good staff working with us and for us and we can rely a whole lot on what they say. But yeah, there’s definitely a very large precautionary attitude towards this next system,” Hays said.
Hays, who is the Vice Chair of the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, said lawmakers will examine other states’ accounting systems and a study commissioned by the legislature last session, that’s due out in March, to determine the best course for replacing FLAIR in the years to come.