Boots & Sabers

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2121, 04 Oct 20

Evers’ DWD failed Wisconsin

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News last week:

In response to the disgraceful management of the Unemployment Insurance program by the Department of Workforce Development, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau audited the response and performance of the state’s call centers. The audit uncovered the exact kinds of lethargy, indifference, and poor leadership that confirm the worst stereotypes of government bureaucracy.

The scale of the problem the DWD faced was real and unprecedented. Governor Evers declared a public health emergency on March 12, closed schools on March 13, and after ratcheting down public gatherings, ordered everyone home on March 24. The governor’s order shuttered most businesses in the state and forced hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites out of work. Evers caused an unprecedented rush of people filing unemployment claims.

In 2019, an average of 4,700 Wisconsinites per week filed an initial unemployment claim. The DWD’s UI call center took about 6,300 calls per week. According to the DWD, 93.4% of initial claims were filed online with only 6.6% being filed through the call centers. The DWD UI call center had a staff of 90 employees.

Beginning the week of March 15, the number of initial claims skyrocketed. It peaked the week of March 22 with 116,129 initial claims filed and was half that by the week of April 5. The DWD call centers received 1.4 million calls the week of March 22 and almost 6 million calls the week of April 12. All told, there were 41.1 million calls made to the DWD call centers between March 15 and June 30. Of those, 93.3% were blocked or received a busy signal; 6.2% of callers got through but hung up before being answered; and only 0.5% of calls were answered.

The DWD woefully underreported the extent of the problem to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. The DWD reported the number of calls blocked, abandoned, and answered. The calls it reported as “blocked” were calls that reached the system and the caller was told to call later and disconnected. They did not report the number of callers who just received a busy signal. In doing so, the DWD failed to report 75% of the calls that were unable to reach the call centers.

When challenges arise, leaders rise. Unfortunately, there were not any to be found at the DWD or in the governor’s mansion.

It is important to follow the dates. On March 31, two weeks after Evers declared a public health emergency, DWD began increasing the staff of its call centers. By the end of April, six weeks after the emergency declaration, they had added four employees. A month later, they had added a total of 37 employees. By the end of July — a full 20 weeks after the emergency declaration — they had added a total of 98 employees. Meanwhile, Wisconsinites continued to get busy signals and wait for checks that never came.

One would think that the DWD employees were burning the midnight oil to help their fellow citizens in these unprecedented times, right? Wrong. From March 15 to July 31, while hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites were unemployed and looking for help, DWD call center workers worked a scant average of 1.6 hours of overtime per week. The call center was only open for 39.58 hours per week until May 20 before they began expanding hours slightly.

The DWD also dragged its feet to contract with outside call centers. Again, the dates are important. The governor declared a state public health emergency on March 12. On April 9, DWD began the process by requesting approval from the Department of Administration to waive a competitive bidding process. The DOA gave approval on April 16 and on April 20, the DWD requested bids. It awarded the contract to Alorica on May 7 — eight weeks after the emergency declaration.

As Alorica call center took several weeks to ramp up to capacity, the DWD did not require that they provide any information about the actual effectiveness of the call centers. The DWD has no idea if they were able to actually resolve the callers’ issues after the initial call. More calls were finally being answered, but nobody is certain to what effect.

If Wisconsin had a competent governor with a competent administration, they would have anticipated the rush of Wisconsinites seeking to file unemployment claims when they effectively shut down the state’s economy. They would have aggressively worked to expand the capacity of the DWD UI staff, expanded hours, worked overtime, accelerated outsourcing, and done everything possible to serve Wisconsinites who were forced out of work due to government action. Instead, the governor, DWD secretary, and agency bureaucrats plodded along at government speed while unemployed Wisconsinites waited and worried.

Governor Evers forced his DWD secretary to resign as the administration’s scapegoat, but he should take a hard look in the mirror and ask why his administration failed precisely when so many Wisconsinites needed it most.


2121, 04 October 2020


  1. Mar

    We are from the government and we are to help.
    Unless, you really need help. And the governor shut down the entire State except State and local government and some businesses.
    But to the peasants who needed help because the government could not answer the phone.

  2. Le Roi du Nord

    “shut down the entire state”, well not in WI.

  3. Mar

    Well, moron, I see you are having reading comprehension problems and lying again.
    You are such a despicable person.

  4. Randall Flagg

    There is no way the DWD could have foreseen how inept Trump would be at handling the COVID response and the resulting economic devastation.  He should have used Obama’s response to H1N1 as a model (no 10% spikes in unemployment with that one)

    It is no wonder COVID is now known as the Trump Virus in the US.

  5. Mar

    Actually, Randall, it’s the Democrat virus, as the Democrats still keep things locked down.
    But the Evers administration couldn’t even answer the phones. They answered about 205,000 phone calls in 3 1/2 months. Could they have not extended hours? Work weekends? Increased the number of workers? Authorize more overtime?

  6. Randall Flagg


    Unemployment not seen since the Great Depression is impossible to prepare for.  We all knew Trump was inept but did not know how incredibly inept.  He took an economy Obama had roaring and sent it back down within a matter of weeks.  The Trump virus is a fitting moniker given all of his missteps.  heck he couldn’t even protect himself and his wife from it.  Can’t blame that on the Democrats.

  7. jjf

    Mar, it’s easy to complain from your arm chair.  For example, why doesn’t your bank stay open all night?

  8. dad29

    In the Olden Times there was a downtown Milwaukee bank that was open from 9A to 9P and 9-5 on Saturdays.  But there were no lending officers on staff after 5P, and only a couple on Saturdays.

    You may not know about this stuff, Jiffy, but now you can deposit, withdraw, transfer funds, and pay bills all electronically!  Really!!  Ask your kids if you don’t know about that.

  9. penquin

    Could they have not extended hours? Work weekends? Increased the number of workers? Authorize more overtime?

    Yes, they could & they did – within the limits they were allowed to do so & the limits of the outdated hardware. (Limits which were brought up during a 2014 audit of the agency.)

    Once a state of emergency is declared the Governor has additional powers granted to him in order to deal with the emergency – one of those powers is the ability to re-allocate funding between departments which is what was done in order to accomplish the steps outlined in the article posted. However, those steps are intended to be a bandaid – the real cure for what ails the department must come from the State House.

    The biggest reason the call center can’t extend their hours is due to computer system being used – it can not accept new claims while processing the claims for the day. This problem was noted in the audit conducted about six years ago.

    Also, there is a limit to how many additional employees can be added via the Governor’s emergency powers as well as how long they can continue to be employed – permanent funding must be approved by the State House.

    While I do beleive he should have replaced the head of the department sooner than he did, the Governor does seem to be doing everything within his powers to help solve this crisis in the unemployment agency. But as noted the fixes he is allowed to do are temporary.

    Permanent fixes for the problems in the agency can only come from the State House, yet they refuse to end their recess & do their job. Shame on them for abandoning us during this time of crisis.

  10. jjf

    Dad29, and DWD’s processing still happened once a day with a deadline, just like the banks.

  11. MjM

    Randy Flags channels Paul “Fax Machine” Krugman: “He took an economy Obama had roaring…”

    … at a huuuuge 1.6% growth rate and the same dude who had the worst average economic growth rate of any post-WWII prez.

  12. jjf

    Don’t worry, if the market crashes after Biden wins, you can blame it all on Biden.

  13. dad29

    IIRC, DWD’s boxes are 3090 water-cooled MVS machines (or equivalent).  Odd that that powerful a system can’t handle real-time transactions.  After all, M&I’s Data Systems machines (also 3090 MVS water-cooled) ran on-line transactions day and night AND batch runs, too.


  14. dad29

    State also hires el-cheapo South Asian programmers and has been doing so for at least 20 years.  So it’s entirely possible that there’s an ineptitude-factor at play here.

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