Suzi LeVine, the departing head of Washington state’s Employment Security Department, will be moving to join the Labor Department under the Biden Administration. LeVine will be acting as interim political head of the Employment and Training Administration to help states manage unemployment benefits and oversee the processing of unemployment claims.
President Biden’s move to appoint LeVine has raised a few issues. She and her husband were heavy contributors to Biden’s 2020 campaign, giving $400,000 to the Biden campaign and other Democratic causes in 2019 and 2020. LeVine served for three years as U.S ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein under the Obama Administration, serving as a longtime player in Democratic politics.
LeVine also fell victim to a Nigerian fraud scam that lost the state over $600 million in taxpayer dollars. Scammers in the well-organized Nigerian ring “Scattered Canary” had used stolen personal data from data breaches, such as the 2017 Equifax breach, and stolen Social Security numbers to make fraudulent claims and siphon off the cash.
A software system that was supposed to red-flag fraudulent claims had stopped working in December 2019 and wasn’t fixed by LeVine and her department until May. Auditors complained that they couldn’t complete their software audits because of Levine’s “significant constraints.”
Washington State Auditor Pat McCarthy warned Levine in an October memo of “management interference” if she did not work with auditors in a timely manner. In an interview, McCarthy described Levine’s response and the agency’s roadblocks as one, unlike anything she’s encountered at any other state agency since she took office in 2017. Other state lawmakers, like Sen. Karen Keiser also noticed LeVine’s slow pace of providing crucial information with the unemployment system, referencing it to “pulling molasses.”
“I understand that they have had a tsunami of challenges with regard to the number of unemployment claims. But right now it is critically important … that we are able to complete this work,” said McCarthy.
By the time that LeVine gave a response in May, a large number of fraudulent transactions had already occurred. She announced that officials were working hard to recover money and take steps in preventing new fraudulent claims. Washington recovered $250 million but had still lost $350.9 million to Nigerian scammers.
“We do have definitive proof that the countermeasures we have put in place are working. We have successfully prevented hundreds of millions of additional dollars from going out to these criminals and prevented thousands of fraudulent claims from being filed,” Levine said.
Failing to fix a software problem that contributed to last year’s massive unemployment fraud raises questions on her record in Olympia and whether or not she will be confirmed by the Senate.
LeVine would oversee President Biden’s economic recovery plan, with an annual budget of roughly $9 billion, and play a key role in patching up the labor market after the start of the pandemic wiped out more than 10 million jobs. Nothing like luring in the most careless and unaccountable Democrats, then throwing them into the White House together.