Volume 7 Number 49 December 3, 2010
As I near the end of my term as Florida’s CFO, I will be using our final few eViews to highlight the accomplishments of our amazing 2,000-member team in the Department of Financial Services and review some areas I see as important for our elected officials to address in the future. This week, I want to share just some of the outstanding successes and achievements of each of the thirteen divisions that make up our Department of Financial Services. Our dedicated employees work hard every day to serve the people of Florida, and I am honored to call attention to the great work they have done in the last four years on behalf of our citizens.
I also want to take this opportunity to say thank you to each and every member of the DFS team – as your CFO it has truly been an honor to work with such outstanding professionals.
State of Florida
The Division of Accounting and Auditing not only keeps track of the state’s “checkbook,” monitoring the spending of state funds and paying the bills, but in the last few years the team in this division has put “Florida’s Checkbook” online, making this information more accessible and available to the people of Florida. By putting so much information about the state’s use of taxpayer dollars online in easy-to-use tools, the Division of Accounting and Auditing has helped CFO Sink realize her commitment to transparency and accountability in government.
In addition to taking the lead on increasing transparency in state spending, the division has also increased contracting accountability and transparency both within the Department and throughout state government by offering training on our best practices for other state agencies. Recently, staff conducted the widely-reported audit of the 1st District Court of Appeal, which outlined 17 findings that pointed to a potential misuse of taxpayer funds.
Also within Accounting & Auditing, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has broken records in its efforts to return unclaimed property to its owners. In the past four years, the bureau has returned a whopping 50.3 percent of all property and cash held since the program’s inception in 1961. More than $748 million from more than one million claims has been returned largely due to the aggressive efforts of the Bureau to contact owners.
The Division of Administration has been a key player in running our Department more efficiently, reducing costs and ensuring the highest and best use of employees’ talents and expertise to effectively serve all Floridians. The hardworking employees in this division have done an outstanding job of making sure that the entire Department of Financial Services runs smoothly by covering everything from monitoring Department financial matters and providing personnel services to our 2,000+ employees, to supplying mail, printing, purchasing, security, and maintenance services.
Additionally, Division of Administration employees have helped develop and execute many cost-saving programs that were implemented throughout the Department that led to millions of dollars in savings. They have also undertaken an extensive public records streamlining process, to ensure that Floridians' public records requests are fulfilled promptly and correctly, and have developed a consistent and transparent purchasing process to ensure stronger accountability when spending your taxpayer dollars.
It’s no secret that the internet has provided the foundation for faster, more efficient communication, and our Division of Agent and Agency Services has been a model for how online efforts can increase efficiency, improve communication and reduce costs in government. By emailing insurance agents instead of sending them paper correspondence the division saved approximately $350,000 last year alone in mailing and supply costs. And, through online printing of licenses, the division is saving Florida taxpayers an additional $420,000 annually.
But this focus on using e-mail and online forms isn’t just saving money – it’s allowing Florida’s insurance agents, adjusters, agencies and other licensees to get more up-to-date information conveniently and promptly. The division has also ramped up its communication efforts through “The Pulse” online newsletter, an excellent way for those licensed by the division to stay in the know about industry information.
The mission of everyone here at the Department is to serve the citizens of Florida, and the outstanding staff in the Division of Consumer Services is easily the most visible part of that effort.
The team in Consumer Services has worked both to respond to specific issues plaguing Floridians – such as foreclosures and senior investment fraud – and to act as strong advocates on behalf of all insurance consumers statewide, with the numbers to prove it! For instance, since 2008, more than $60 million has been recovered for insurance consumers by our team, and in just the past year, the division handled nearly 241,000 phone calls through its consumer helpline. Outreach coordinators in the division also coordinated and hosted more than 1,000 consumer education and outreach events in 2010, including “Safeguard Our Seniors” events designed to help seniors avoid financial fraud scams and “Florida Housing Help” workshops to assist homeowners facing foreclosure as a result of the housing crisis. And, the division’s advocacy efforts were essential this year in helping Florida residents and small businesses impacted by the BP oil spill with navigating the claims process.
Not only has this division played a central role in helping Floridians with their insurance needs, but they have been a key part in CFO Sink’s efforts to make government more efficient. Most notably the division consolidated their consumer call centers, which improved service while saving the state more than $2 million a year. Consumer Services also took the lead role in implementing the extremely successful My Safe Florida Home program, which provided inspections to more than 400,000 Florida homeowners and retrofitted nearly 33,000 homes with matching grants to strengthen these homes against hurricanes and help lower insurance costs for Floridians.
In the last four years, the Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services has taken a much stronger, more aggressive and proactive approach when it comes to enforcement and protection for Floridians. These improvements are part of a process that began when CFO Sink appointed two experienced Department attorneys to lead the Division and improve litigation management processes. As a result, the probable cause panel of the Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services meets regularly to address the six-fold increase in investigations being presented. In addition, the Division has implemented several cost-saving measures, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars. Along with cost-saving measures, the Division strengthened its relationship with industry members through outreach and training.
The Division of Information Systems plans, manages, and operates the information technology (IT) resources for the Department of Financial Services including the statewide accounting system, allowing the Department to provide the services that the citizens of our state need more efficiently and effectively. The division also has an intense and vastly improved customer service focus, to best serve the entire Department and the citizens of Florida.
Besides keeping our team up and running, this division has improved several of the Department’s web components, developed a better web search tool and redesigned MyFloridaCFO.com to ensure better and more easily accessible services to the people of Florida. And, they have helped increase efficiency across the entire department by helping reduce energy consumption used by all Department PCs. The Division of Information Systems works to make sure Floridians have improved access to all of our Department’s services, making DIS truly the unsung heroes of our team.
When a fraudster stages an accident to collect insurance money, it’s not just a matter of the insurance company being defrauded. In fact, all of Florida’s consumers are forced to pay higher premiums, which is why the successful work of our sworn law enforcement officers and other members of the Division of Insurance Fraud is so important.
As one of the Department’s law enforcement arms, the Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) has found new and innovative ways to crack down on the ever-changing challenges facing Floridians. By creating specialized task forces to address specific issues – from PIP fraud to annuities fraud and more – the division has been able to aggressively target these crimes, resulting in significant increases in arrests and prosecutions. In fact, DIF made a record 1,042 felony arrests in the last fiscal year, of which more than 700 convictions resulted in court-ordered restitution totaling more than $63 million.
In the last few years, DIF’s commitment to excellence was recognized in its achievement of full accreditation from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. The accreditation is a highly prized, 260-standard recognition of law enforcement professional excellence.
The role of our energetic and talented lawyers in the Division of Legal Services is providing top-notch legal work for the entire Department of Financial Services, something they do extremely well. But the Legal Services Division has also been a leader in moving the Department into the 21st century by implementing numerous electronic initiatives to save time, money, paper, and better serve the people of Florida. For instance, Legal Services now takes in many of their legal files electronically, and puts information online when the Department takes final legal action, in addition to posting notices of public meetings, hearings and workshops. The Division also took the unprecedented step of naming a “Sunshine Attorney” to assist with public records requests and other open government issues.
When financially troubled insurance companies are deemed “insolvent” by a judge, our team at the Division of Rehabilitation and Liquidation steps in, helping achieve as smooth a transition as possible for policyholders and, in the best circumstances, a beneficial outcome for all involved. Employees in Rehabilitation and Liquidation also manage these assets in receivership – $284 million in the past year – and collect refunds for past taxes paid by companies in receivership.
The division’s tireless staff has seen one success story after the next in their work over the past four years, even in the most dire of circumstances. In addition to their usual good work to rehabilitate companies and arrange replacement coverage for policyholders, just last year the Rehab and Liquidation team was able to save over 100 jobs for Floridians and protect approximately 15,000 Florida policyholders by successfully negotiating a transition plan for a liquidated company.
The diligent employees at the Division of Risk Management are responsible for identifying and controlling exposure to loss or injury resulting from the daily operation of Florida’s government – but they have accomplished so much more, reducing costs and saving millions of taxpayer dollars during CFO Sink’s administration. Through businesslike reforms, including focusing on preventing accidents and targeting agencies with the highest number of claims, Risk Management was able to save more than $12 million for Florida taxpayers. Even more exciting, these reforms were based on business best practices and advice from private sector risk management experts and led to the creation of CFO Sink’s Risk Management Advisory Council.
The new focus of risk management is preventing risk to state workers, getting people back to work sooner, and improving service to everyone involved – and it’s clearly working. In these last four years, the Division of Risk Management has shown just how much can be accomplished by effectively bringing private sector experience and focus to state government.
Florida’s CFO also wears the hat of the State Fire Marshal, with responsibility for overseeing sworn arson investigators, crime intelligence analysts and civilian support to keep Floridians safe from harm and minimize damages as a result of fires.
The dedicated staff in this division work on a myriad of preventative, educational and investigative efforts. Each year, roughly 7,000 firefighters take classes at the Florida State Fire College, and tens of thousands of boilers, licensed entities, public, state-owned and leased buildings are inspected by the State Fire Marshal team.
In just the past year, State Fire Marshal investigators used their expertise in responding to more than 3,400 fires, resulting in nearly 600 arrests, and multiple thousands of chemical cases were analyzed at the division’s forensic laboratory.
Also this year, three Bureaus within the State Fire Marshal office earned prestigious accreditation status from different accrediting bodies: the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation (CFA), the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD-International), and the International Accreditation for Fire Service Organization’s ProBoard. The State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis (BFFEA) also received the prestigious international Vollmer Award for Excellence in Forensic Science in 2010.
Despite the difficult times in the financial markets, the Division of Treasury has generated more than $2.5 billion in investment income for the state of Florida since January 2007. This success is due to the professional management and intense oversight of the state’s assets from the Treasury team. The Division has also worked to improve policies and processes that safeguard and protect the state’s financial resources. Also, despite a significant increase in the number of financial institutions that have been closed in Florida, no public funds were lost during any of the bank closures. Finally, the Florida Treasury Investment Pool continued its record of strong credit ratings, showing the skill and dedication of the treasury team.
If a worker is injured on the job, it’s essential that the employer has sufficient coverage to ensure that worker receives the medical attention deserved – and that is the job of the team at the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Not only does the Workers’ Comp staff routinely educate employees and businesses about their rights and responsibilities, but in the past four years, they have ramped up efforts to protect Florida’s workforce by cracking down on those employers who aren’t following the rules and by making it easier to report violations.
The division has gone into the field, conducting more than 33,000 employer investigations in just the past year. As a result of these efforts over 8,000 new employees were covered under workers’ compensation law and $5 million was added to the workers’ compensation premium base that had been previously evaded. The division also started a new online reporting system and this “whistleblower website” allows citizens to report companies that may be breaking the law.
The team at Workers’ Comp also focused on creating an innovative electronic interface so that workers can submit claims and get information about their ongoing claims and records online. Now nearly 98 percent of claims are submitted electronically.