tampabay.com

State worker data said to be at risk

By JONI JAMES
Published October 27, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Fresh details emerged Thursday about one of the more embarrassing episodes of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's administration - the problem-riddled privatization of state employee personnel services - providing campaign fodder for the Democrat running for attorney general.

At issue is the state's contract with Convergys, a publicly traded Cincinnati firm hired to take over the administration of state personnel files and services.

More than two years ago, Democratic state Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, who is now running for attorney general, launched a public campaign questioning whether the governor's push to use private companies for public jobs meant state work was being shipped overseas.

His questions, rebuffed by Republican leaders, went nowhere until December, when evidence emerged from two whistle-blowers that one of Convergys' subcontractors, Colorado's GDXdata, had shipped personnel files overseas for data processing in violation of the state's contract with Convergys.

Convergys has said it was misled by GDXdata and said it is cooperating with state officials investigating the matter.

But Thursday, the two whistle-blowers, Kristina Gilmore and Tara "TJ" Pagado, were in Tallahassee with Campbell, saying they had found additional evidence that state employees' personal information could be at risk of being stolen.

And they said Convergys should have known the work was being sent overseas because of the subcontractor's low bid.

John Newcomer of Tampa, the women's attorney, said he has found evidence that one hard disk GDXdata shipped to India containing employees information was lost.

Gilmore and Pagado, whose trip to Tallahassee was paid for by Newcomer, said ex-convicts were in Colorado to process Florida's personnel records.

The women in March 2005 filed a lawsuit accusing a private entity of defrauding the government. If the suit is successful, the whistle-blowers will collect part of any damages.

Campbell accused the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Charlie Crist, of ignoring "a clear and present danger" that state employees' identities are at risk of theft, or worse, could be used by terrorists to gain access into the country. He said the attorney general should have joined the lawsuit.

Crist's office responded by distributing a time line showing several meetings with former GDX employees since April 2005. "Just because we didn't join the suit doesn't mean we're not investigating," said JoAnn Carrin, a spokeswoman.

Campbell also unveiled a new campaign ad chastising his Republican opponent, former Rep. Bill McCollum, for an unsuccessful 1998 proposal that would have shielded some in the health care industry from whistle-blowers who allege Medicare fraud.

McCollum's campaign said Campbell is exaggerating the facts.

"His campaign is in desperation mode," said McCollum campaign manager Phil Vangelakos. "He's insulting the people of Florida and embarrassing himself."

Times staff writer Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report.