Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Walters: Who Should Be Accountable for Employment Department Mess?
dan_walters
By Dan Walters, CalMatters Commentary
Published 3 years ago on
February 9, 2021

Share

It may be difficult to believe, but there is a state law, the State Leadership Accountability Act, that commands state agency heads to personally ensure that their programs are performing honestly and effectively.

Its stated rationale is that “prevention and early detection of fraud and errors in program administration are vital to public confidence and the appropriate and efficient use of public resources.”

Dan Walters

Opinion

It’s difficult to believe because California’s government is afflicted with managerial messes for which no one is held personally accountable, such as the truly horrendous meltdown of the Employment Development Department.

EDD was inundated with applications for state and federal unemployment insurance benefits early last year when Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down much of the economy to battle COVID-19.

Lax Scrutiny Led to Fraud

As claims processing bogged down, the department waived many anti-fraud validation procedures and just shoveled money out the door. That led to at least $11 billion in fraudulent payments and an official rebuke from the U.S. Department of Labor about California’s laxity.

In reaction to fraud, EDD began holding up or even canceling benefit payments. Meanwhile, the feds told the state to revisit cases that lacked the required verification and claw back any excess payments.

Thus, while fraudsters made out like bandits — literally — hundreds of thousands or even millions of legitimate claims have been stalled, sometimes for months.

Two recent reports by state Auditor Elaine Howle laid out EDD’s miscues on claims processing and fraud. Howle also noted that her office had catalogued EDD’s structural shortcomings in a 2011 report that was largely ignored.

The question about who should be held responsible for this bureaucratic Chernobyl hung over a legislative hearing last week.

Who Screwed Up?

During their questioning of Howle and EDD leaders, including newly installed director Rita Saenz, legislators gingerly probed for answers, but Saenz and her underlings were clearly reluctant to specify who screwed up.

Only Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, and Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, a Democrat from Los Angeles, appeared interested in seeking personal accountability.

Instead, the legislators were more inclined to recite horror stories of their unemployed constituents mistreated by EDD.

“It’s the difference between eating and starving,” Sen. John Laird, a Santa Cruz Democrat, declared. “The people of California are pissed off and so are we,” Assemblyman Mike Gipson, a Democrat from Carson, added.

One Howle audit, without naming her, put the onus for one of the worst decisions on Julie Su, who headed the state labor agency and thus oversaw EDD.

Verification Rules Changed

Su directed EDD to drop the verification standards to speed up claims processing. That opened the door to fraud and generated the rebuke from the U.S. Department of Labor that may require some legitimate recipients to repay benefits if their eligibility cannot be retroactively established.

Will Su face accountability? Not in California, since President Joe Biden has nominated Su for the No. 2 position in the Department of Labor. She may, however, face some rough questioning during Senate confirmation hearings about her role in the massive fraud.

What about Sharon Hilliard, who was EDD’s director during the meltdown?

After 37 years with EDD, Hilliard suddenly retired at the end of the year — whether voluntarily or otherwise is uncertain. “Sharon is a dedicated public servant and we owe her our gratitude for leading the department through the pandemic,” Newsom said.

Newsom bears some responsibility since he was governor when the debacle occurred, but former Gov. Jerry Brown, who ignored the 2011 audit of EDD’s shortcomings, should also be included on an accountability list, if there is one.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

[activecampaign form=19]

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Upward Bound: Edison High’s Garcia Headed to Johns Hopkins

DON'T MISS

Boxing Star Ryan Garcia Wants to Meet Netanyahu, Pledges Aid for Gaza Children

DON'T MISS

Fong Won’t Debate Boudreaux, but We Get Hot Topic Answers Anyway

DON'T MISS

Legislation Pandering to Tribal Casinos Is a Bad Bet for Fresno Cardroom Employees

DON'T MISS

About 1 in 4 US Adults Over 50 Say They Expect to Never Retire, an AARP Study Finds

DON'T MISS

Biden Signs a $95 Billion War Aid Measure With Assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

DON'T MISS

Ancestry Website to Catalogue Names of Japanese Americans Incarcerated During World War II

DON'T MISS

First-Round Picks Could Be on the Trading Block on Day 1 of the NFL Draft

DON'T MISS

Trojans Rejoice! Reggie Bush Is Reinstated as 2005 Heisman Trophy Winner

DON'T MISS

Arizona Just Revived an 1864 Law Criminalizing Abortion. Here’s What’s Happening in Other States

UP NEXT

Newsom Criticizes Local Response to Homelessness. He Should Look in the Mirror.

UP NEXT

By Remembering the Genocide, We Can Help Rebuild Armenia

UP NEXT

Californians Worry About Crime, Setting up a Ballot Measure Showdown

UP NEXT

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

UP NEXT

Will State AG Rob Bonta Jump Into 2026 Race for CA Governor?

UP NEXT

Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno ‘Education City USA’

UP NEXT

Carbon Capture Isn’t Nearly as ‘Green’ as Fossil Fuel Promoters Make It Sound

UP NEXT

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

UP NEXT

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

UP NEXT

Biden’s Embrace of Trump’s Tariffs Could Spell Trouble for His Reelection: Fareed Zakaria

Legislation Pandering to Tribal Casinos Is a Bad Bet for Fresno Cardroom Employees

2 hours ago

About 1 in 4 US Adults Over 50 Say They Expect to Never Retire, an AARP Study Finds

2 hours ago

Biden Signs a $95 Billion War Aid Measure With Assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

3 hours ago

Ancestry Website to Catalogue Names of Japanese Americans Incarcerated During World War II

3 hours ago

First-Round Picks Could Be on the Trading Block on Day 1 of the NFL Draft

3 hours ago

Trojans Rejoice! Reggie Bush Is Reinstated as 2005 Heisman Trophy Winner

4 hours ago

Arizona Just Revived an 1864 Law Criminalizing Abortion. Here’s What’s Happening in Other States

4 hours ago

Airlines Now Required to Give Automatic Cash Refunds for Canceled, Delayed Flights

4 hours ago

Fresno County Appoints New Librarian. What’s Her Favorite Book Genre?

5 hours ago

Shohei Ohtani Hits Second-Deck Home Run in Dodgers’ Road Win

5 hours ago

Upward Bound: Edison High’s Garcia Headed to Johns Hopkins

Edison High School senior Mayra Hernandez Garcia will be moving to Baltimore, Maryland this fall to begin her undergraduate studies at Johns...
Local Education /

28 mins ago

Local Education /
28 mins ago

Upward Bound: Edison High’s Garcia Headed to Johns Hopkins

43 mins ago

Boxing Star Ryan Garcia Wants to Meet Netanyahu, Pledges Aid for Gaza Children

60 mins ago

Fong Won’t Debate Boudreaux, but We Get Hot Topic Answers Anyway

2 hours ago

Legislation Pandering to Tribal Casinos Is a Bad Bet for Fresno Cardroom Employees

2 hours ago

About 1 in 4 US Adults Over 50 Say They Expect to Never Retire, an AARP Study Finds

3 hours ago

Biden Signs a $95 Billion War Aid Measure With Assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

3 hours ago

Ancestry Website to Catalogue Names of Japanese Americans Incarcerated During World War II

3 hours ago

First-Round Picks Could Be on the Trading Block on Day 1 of the NFL Draft

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend