Troubled head of Washington Employment Security Division departs for Biden Administration job

ESD unable to detect their own employee names in scam

Suzie LeVine has been in charge of the Washington Employment Security Division (ESD) during the challenging era of COVID-19 layoffs. She was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee in July 2018. It was announced today (Jan. 22) she will leave on Feb. 1 for a job in the Biden administration.

LeVine’s tenure was marked by unprecedented unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown ordered by Gov. Inslee. This led to massive delays and fraud in getting payments to Washington residents over the course of the year. ESD was plagued by a $650 million Nigerian fraud scheme that targeted the state’s unemployment benefits. Federal authorities helped recover roughly $333 million of those funds.

“I have loved every minute of my job here at ESD, even the ones that have been the most difficult,” LeVine said in a statement. “From the moment I started with the agency, I recognized my role as Commissioner is a position with profound purpose that has a positive impact on millions of lives as well as no shortage of really hard problems to solve.”

Suzie LeVine, head of the state Employment Security Division, will leave Feb. 1st for a new position in the Biden Administration. Photo by AP
Suzie LeVine, head of the state Employment Security Division, will leave Feb. 1st for a new position in the Biden Administration. Photo by AP

ESD has delivered more than $13.5 billion in benefits to more than a million unemployed Washingtonians during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a press release. But the agency has been heavily criticized during the pandemic for delays and glitches in paying claims to jobless workers. 

Crosscut recently reported “nine months into the pandemic, the state’s unemployment system is still rife with issues, and thousands are stuck in limbo.’’ As of Dec. 5, the agency said 1.8 percent of people who had filed for unemployment since March were still waiting for ESD to resolve their claims.

But with this year’s deluge of unemployment applicants, 1.8 percen still amounts to nearly 27,000 people, according to Crosscut. While ESD normally aims for claims with issues to be resolved within three weeks, the department is now taking nearly 10 weeks to resolve complicated claims, on average, they report.

A recent KING 5 news report indicates fraudulent unemployment claims were filed last year in the stolen identities of 59 employees who work at the state ESD. In 10 of those cases, ESD spotted the fraud after it had paid the claim to the fraudster’s bank account. 

The new information underscores questions surrounding the employment agency’s performance safeguarding the public’s money in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic last year. ESD disabled security and verification processes to speed payments to tens of thousands of Washington workers who lost their jobs. 

The Washington Policy Center (WPC) highlighted ESD problems in a Thursday (Jan. 21) report. 

The Washington State Auditor, in a recent investigation, found that ESD “had inadequate controls to prevent the massive unemployment insurance benefit fraud.” State Auditor Pat McCarthy accused Commissioner LeVine of imposing “significant constraints” on the auditors as they investigated the department.

The state auditor’s office, in its latest report in December, cataloged the repeated missteps by Levine, indicating that new leadership is needed at the agency.

Cami Feek, currently the ESD’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, will step into the role temporarily until a permanent replacement is appointed by Gov. Inslee.