During the news conference 2020-06-11 with Suzi LeVine, Commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department, Linzi Sheldon of KIRO TV asked a couple questions. LeVine’s answers reveal more than what she actually said.
Sheldon asked why many ESD applicants were being asked to upload the same documents, especially identification documents, more than once. Here’s LeVine’s answer. Comments immediately after.
“We are working on a problem right now with our vendor with the system regarding how we clear, and then, sustain, that clearing process. Our system was not designed for doing bulk clearing and bulk issue setting. and so, we are working through that, so that those individuals who have been cleared do not need to resubmit information and we are working towards resolving this quickly with our vendor to make sure that problem does not persist. We are aware of it and we are working on it.” . . . “however, there are some people where some of their information has changed and where we do actually need that information again.”
The vendor is Fast Enterprises from Colorado. Fast Enterprises sold ESD a complex software platform to manage unemployment applications and claims. The software is called FASTUI, which was implemented at the beginning of 2017.
“We are working on a problem right now with our vendor with the system regarding how we clear, and then, sustain, that clearing process.”
The first notable part of that statement is working with the vendor. This is an admission that ESD does not have total control over the software and the effects of configuration changes.
Once an applicant is cleared for payment, the system sometimes unclears the applicant — probably as a result of other configuration changes. This means ESD must attend to an application at least twice, thereby reducing efficiency.
“Our system was not designed for doing bulk clearing and bulk issue setting. And so we are working through that, so that those individuals who have been cleared do not need to resubmit information and we are working towards resolving this quickly with our vendor to make sure that problem does not persist.”
This is an admission the software has limitations. It is an admission ESD needs help from the software producer. Most likely the software was designed for single-applicant attention. Attempts to clear hundreds or thousands of applicants for payments is apparently not working, because other software actions are altering desired settings.
“however, there are some people where some of their information has changed and where we do actually need that information again.”
LeVine’s words are a polite way of saying this: The system is deleting and losing documents applicants have uploaded. To an ESD worker, an upload may have disappeared without even the worker being aware of the upload. So, once an ESD worker gets into an application, it may be possible the worker simply sees the need for ID documents and issues an alert for the applicant to upload — again.
Sheldon also asked if ESD would prioritize applicants, so those waiting the longest would get attention first. “Can you tell us what the ESD is doing to clear up those people who have been waiting the longest?”
Here’s most of LeVine’s answer:
“So we are working very hard to clear those people who are there longest. As someone who has dug in deeply on some of those numbers, it’s a combination in terms of how people are still waiting that amount of time. In some cases it’s that those individuals have not responded when we called. In some cases it’s that there are additional areas that need to be worked. But, most of those folks who have been waiting the longest have been contacted and those issues are being worked. So, the team is prioritizing those. In addition to that, what we are working to distinguish are those people who have been waiting longest, actually those people in adjudication who overall, and I’ve mentioned this in my remarks, who, some of whom are actually already receiving payments. It’s just that they are receiving conditional payments versus some people who are not receiving payments at all. So we are working to identify those who have not been receiving payments at all, and will be prioritizing them, again, from oldest to newest. So, that’s what we are working on in terms of, again, continuing to dig down into the data so that we can be more targeted to address and relieve the needs of more Washingtonians.”
LeVine did not really answer Sheldon’s question. Sheldon asked what ESD is doing to focus on those waiting the longest. LeVine described various aspects that might cause those to be waiting the longest. Only at the end did LeVine suggest some action: “continuing to dig down into the data . . . .” No group in ESD focused on those waiting the longest?
Let’s focus on this statement:
“…working to identify whose who have not been receiving payments at all.”
LeVine makes the task of identifying those waiting the longest as some sort of complex mystery hunt. A decent database programmer could write a few queries in a day (or less) to generate various reports. LeVine is turning a simple matter into some complex, convoluted, process.
Apparently, LeVine can’t simply say something like “We have developed database queries that identify those waiting the longest.” Why not? It comes down to a few factors:
— the data is locked up in a proprietary format that requires specialized, custom programming from the vendor. (Remember the vendor comments?)
— the software is not capable of the necessary queries
— ESD does not have anyone on staff capable of programming the queries — specialized or not
Really, identifying those waiting the longest should not be a big ordeal. But the fact that LeVine is still talking about “working to identify” means ESD has yet to come up with a solution to do so. The root of the problem is probably in data format, software, and knowledgeable personnel. Apparently ESD does not have the right combination of those three.
Another factor might be that with all the changes ESD is trying to do, the database has become, quite simply, a mess, such that ESD cannot depend on queries to provide good answers.