Gov. Inslee names new head of oft-maligned Employment Security Department
Gov. Inslee announced Wednesday that he has named Cami Feek the new commissioner of Washington’s Employment Security Department (ESD).
This comes after previous ESD head, Suzi LeVine, announced in January that she would be leaving the department for a role in the Biden-Harris administration in Washington, D.C.
LeVine was first appointed as ESD commissioner in 2018, with a tenure marked by unprecedented unemployment brought on by the pandemic. Over the last year, that’s also seen ESD come under fire in the wake of hundreds of millions of dollars getting paid out to fraudsters using stolen identities in May of 2020. That led to significant delays for thousands of Washingtonians who had applied for jobless benefits at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.
A subsequent audit found that ESD’s internal controls hadn’t been strong enough to protect against fraud, revealing that an automated process designed to flag suspicious claims had been out of commission.
Feek will now step in to lead ESD full time, having already been serving as acting commissioner after LeVine left the department in early 2020. Prior to that, Feek served as deputy ESD commissioner and chief operating officer, after spending time with the Washington Department of General Administration and Department of Enterprise Services. She is also touted as the first ever director for the state’s nascent Paid Family and Medical Leave program.
“I first started working with Cami through her leadership on the nation’s best Paid Family and Medical Leave program and I was impressed with her knowledge, compassion, and ability to work with a variety of divergent stakeholders,” Gov. Inslee said Wednesday. “She is a dedicated public servant who knows how crucial workforce development and retraining is to workers and to the economy.”
Feek acknowledged ESD’s issues over the last year as part of Wednesday’s announcement, saying that she’s going “into this role with my eyes wide open.”
“ESD is a continuous learning organization, and I am committed to applying all we’ve learned in this crisis to increasing equitable access to our many services and improving the experience for our customers,” she vowed.
Feek was not able to give a number when asked by KIRO Radio how many people are currently waiting on their unemployment claims to process.
“The claims numbers fluctuates daily … and I think just one metric around the claims volume doesn’t tell the complete story,” she said.
That figure would normally be visible in ESD’s online Benefits Data Dashboard, but a large portion of the dashboard has been down since January, citing adjustments that need to be made “due to the launch of the new federal stimulus and the changes to the systems.” Feek said that they hope to include a variety of new metrics in the dashboard when it comes back up — but that may still be three months away.
“We’re on a path to get the dashboard back up in September — sooner if we can,” she said. “That will give us, I think, a well-rounded picture of metrics.”