Florida CFO releases open letter as he departs

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater released an open letter today to Floridian as he steps down at the end of the session for a position at Florida Atlantic University:

Dear Fellow Floridians:

For five generations, my family has called Florida home and there is no place in these United States where I would rather live, work and raise a family. In addition to enjoying our great state’s rich natural history and unmatched landscapes, I have had the honor of getting to know many of you personally. From Pensacola to Key West, and all stops in between, I have had the unique privilege of meeting your families, hearing your stories and answering your calls. You have graciously welcomed me into your homes, invited me to share meals and memories. Your words and life stories have been edifying to me and helped shape my time in public life. As I approach the end of our shared journey, the impact, influence and inspiration you have provided cannot be overstated.

This narrative began nearly 20 years ago, as vice mayor of North Palm Beach, when my family and I walked the blocks of our local neighborhood, learning first-hand from our friends and neighbors how they thought their government could do better. From those early days I went on to serve as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, as a Florida State Senator, Senate President, and finally as your elected Chief Financial Officer. During that time, we collectively faced the Great Recession and years of tough economic times. I worked alongside fellow lawmakers to cut taxes and create conditions that allowed families and businesses to recover and move forward. I am forever grateful for your support, your prayers and your votes of confidence.

Part of my responsibilities as CFO have included those of state treasurer. In that capacity, I committed our resources to increasing access to our state’s financial information and to ensure that Florida is using every tax dollar wisely. To hold myself and all state government leaders accountable, I posted our state’s expenses online for everyone to see, and transparent spending became the new Florida standard.

Knowing how much of a family budget goes to the government, I rededicated time and energy to eliminating the fraud, waste and abuse of government dollars that drive up the cost of living for all Florida families. I aggressively fought against insurance fraud and helped hold the line on rising insurance rates. Thousands of criminals are now behind bars, millions of dollars have been saved through our investigations, and through my final day in office, I will never stop fighting for you.

To keep more of your money in your pocket where it belongs, our unclaimed property team has identified unclaimed savings accounts, uncashed paychecks and misplaced insurance policies that families may have forgotten about or never knew existed, and returned those funds to them. In total, our Department has returned more than $1.6 billion in unclaimed property back to their rightful owners. A few years ago, we discovered that many life insurance companies, by claiming that they did not know when a policyholder had died, were not properly paying out life insurance benefits to beneficiaries. Life insurance is designed to be a safety net to help settle a loved one’s final affairs, and I knew that something had to be done about the fact these companies were allowing their greed to cause good families harm. I challenged these companies in court, in the media and in front of the Florida Legislature, and our cause prevailed. We changed the law and made it clear that Florida will hold these companies accountable. That legislation led many other states to adopting similar measures.

One of my early goals was to see that our Department worked with greater efficiency and a greater sense of urgency. Our mindset was to see the taxpayers as customers, and to reorient all our efforts to delivering value to those customers. Along with our partners in the Legislature, we have been able to restructure the Department, significantly reduce our staffing and operating costs, while addressing salary inequities that created excessive and costly turnover. Today the Department of Financial Services operates with a five percent net reduction in full time positions, while assuming additional programs and greater responsibilities.

As Florida was experiencing rapid growth, we were eager to see Florida’s financial management system move into the 21st century in order to meet the state’s needs. To support this effort, we sought funding from the Legislature to address the Florida Accounting Information Resource (FLAIR) system which has served as the state’s accounting system for more than 30 years. We now have in place Florida Planning, Accounting and Ledger Management (PALM), which is a multiyear, multiphase project to replace Florida’s accounting and cash management systems with a financial management enterprise resource planning solution.

I am proud of what I have fought for, accomplished and achieved. None of that could have been done without the dedicated team that has worked alongside me each day. They, and every Florida voter who has ever checked my name on a ballot, have put their faith, their finances, and their futures in my hands, and through that process I have become a better man.

As I transition to an institution of higher education, I hope to continue shaping the lives and learning opportunities of Florida’s future leaders. I look forward to spending more time with my family, and catching a few more baseball games. While words will never be adequate to express my gratitude, I say thank you and wish you all a fond farewell. And if you happen to see me at a ball game, please stop by and say hello.

With great humility I remain,

Jeff Atwater