7 million papers bog down department
Documents waiting to be copied could cost $1 million to process, says a state agency.


By Linda Kleindienst | Tallahassee Bureau
Posted February 16, 2005

TALLAHASSEE -- When it comes to state waiting lists, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation has the big daddy of them all -- 7 million paper documents waiting to be copied.

With file cabinets overflowing and boxes piling up in the basement, agency officials are asking the state Legislature for $1 million to get rid of the paper stacks that have piled up over the past two years.

"On the lower level in this building it looks like you could begin building cubicles with walls of boxes. We have an overflow," said Jean Whitten, DBPR's budget director.

The staff estimated the extent of the backlog by counting stuffed file cabinets and boxes that have been piling up in storage areas.

Broken microfiche machines mostly are to blame. Now the agency is asking state lawmakers to help them copy the paper onto a more permanent -- and compact -- electronic system that is readily accessible.

But some lawmakers are suggesting that ineptness has played a hand in the agency's problems and a recent internal audit points out a "significant inefficiency" in record management in some of DBPR's divisions.

Whitten stunned a House budget committee last week when she told them of the piles of paper that had been accumulating. She called the system "archaic" and said, "we've not been able to keep up with the volume of documents."

And there's no money in the budget to fix the microfiche machines.

On Tuesday, members of the House State Administration Appropriations Committee again tried to grasp how the agency got so backed up.

"DBPR should have come to us and asked us for help," said Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami.

"The more I hear, the more concerns I have," said Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston. "It's indicative of a much larger problem that perhaps is endemic in the agency."

DBPR licenses one out of every 16 Floridians, handling 250,000 new applications a year and 355,000 renewals, a paper-intensive job. It also issues licenses in 200 categories that range from electricians and cosmetologists to auctioneers and professional boxers. About 4 million of the documents involve the board that regulates the real-estate profession.

The backlog has not affected licenses being issued or complaints being investigated -- it's just clogging up the office until the documents can either be copied onto microfiche or be put into some other computer-friendly system.

If nothing else, the proliferation of paper could create a safety hazard. Should the building catch on fire, Whitten said there is no backup for the documents, which include personnel files, applications for real-estate and other professional licenses, copies of legal proceedings and condominium complaints.

The estimate: 14 cents a page, for a total of $1 million. The agency hopes to outsource the job to a private vendor.

Robaina, a frequent critic of DBPR, suggested that inefficiency and poorly trained staff could also have something to do with the problem.

"They have a lack of personnel, there is no tracking of documents, they don't know what they're supposed to do with the files and people in there are just not trained well," Robaina said.

Using a calculator, Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, guessed the backlog could take years to take care of.

"But just think of all the square footage we could save," he added.