Opinion: Washington’s Employment Security Department is hiding its records

A source exposed that the ESD was intending to delete 88 million internal messages between employees

As reported by MyNorthwest.com last week, a tipster had exposed that the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) was intending to delete 88 million internal messages between employees. Now, in a letter to the ESD Director Cami Feek, Washington State Senator Jeff Wilson who serves as the ranking member on the Senate Committee on State Government and Elections, is demanding answers.

Mark Harmsworth
Mark Harmsworth

The concern stems from a public records request from business ethics reporter Lynn Brewer, submitted earlier in the year that resulted in a $100,000 settlement from the state, when the agency failed to follow state public record laws.

In a letter, dated August 17, Senator Wilson is asking for a response to several questions,

Does ESD possess chat-related records that have not been provided to or shared with public records requester Lynn Brewer, including those dated after March 2020 and concerning imposter fraud or ESD’s response to it? If so, why have chat records not yet been shared with the requester, either as part of any recent public records requests or as part of the previous request that resulted in the $100,000 settlement?

A source exposed that the ESD was intending to delete 88 million internal messages between employees.

Has ESD considered destroying any chat records since March 2020, and have any actually been destroyed? Additionally, has there been any discussion within ESD of disabling or dismantling any software system that uses a chat feature, or any technology systems change that could result in the loss of chat records?

Has ESD considered destroying any records at all related to the imposter fraud scheme?

What changes have been implemented at the agency as a result of the previous public records settlement?

It is clear that ESD is struggling to meet statutory public records law requirements as these latest two incidents are not the first that have occurred. In 2020, Seattle Times reporter, Jim Brunner had to wait over six months for a simple calendar request from ESDs embattled director at the time, Suzi LeVine. Washington Policy Center highlighted back in October 2020, some of the transparency issues the department was struggling with and made several policy suggestions on what needed to be done to resolve them. Neither have been addressed and no explanation from the agency has been given, other than the agency is overwhelmed with unemployment claims and is struggling to respond to record requests.

After last year’s Nigerian Fraud problems, which recent estimates indicate could now top over $1 billion in lost taxpayer dollars, ESD needs to be focused on improving transparency into its processes to help restore the public trust.

If it turns out that ESD did delete public records, irrespective of the reason it was done, then the agency needs to be held accountable. It is unacceptable for any government agency to deliberately delete public records.

Washington Policy Center is looking forward to the response from ESD to Senator Wilson’s letter and will continue to push for open and transparent government.

Mark Harmsworth is the director of the Small Business Center at the Washington Policy Center.

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1 year ago

Interesting. Banks keep ALL their messages like this, they have to…ESD should as well, because these people are sitting at home with all our personal info available to them…and to anyone inside their homes.

I know someone who works for a bank and works from home and leaves her computer open for anyone to see in the kitchen. At a BBQ with scammers and lowlifes. Smart.

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