Inefficient. Poorly managed. Sloppy. These strong words are being used to describe the agency that pays Indiana's unemployed. Whistleblowers came exclusively to I-Team 8 to expose this story years in the making.
One of those whistleblowers is a former DWD employee who we'll call Ken. He knows the Department of Workforce Development well. He worked there as one of the people who decides whether you're eligible for unemployment. When asked whether the unemployed can be assured their cases will be decided fairly and accurately he answered, "I would not have faith, no. And I don't think a lot of people do."
Ken doesn't want us to identify him for fear of state retaliation. But another former DWD worker, Andrew Gray, shared his story openly.
"It's a poorly run department," said Gray.
The state's unemployment rate skyrocketed from 4.7 percent in January of 2008 to a record high 10.9 percent just a year and a half later. As unemployment reached its peak, internal e-mails obtained by I-Team 8 detail how the Department of Workforce Development - drowning in claims, calls and appeals - may have resorted to questionable tactics that contributed to a $2 billion debt.
He points to an October 2009 e-mail from Ronnie Miller, then the Unemployment Insurance Director of Benefits and Appeals. In it, Miller told DWD employees to get the number of appeals to a "more manageable number" that week. He instructed them to "correct every case based on information provided by the claimant, fix what they say is wrong." He goes on to say, "I understand that this might create some error on these cases, and we are willing to accept that in exchange for getting the case count reduced."
When asked whether he believed some unemployed claimants were paid who shouldn't have been and vice versa, Ken replied, "Oh, I can guarantee that, yeah."
I-Team 8 uncovered memos even more disturbing. An e-mail with DELETE DOCUMENT WORK in the subject line tells employees to delete documents older than 150 days. It went to DWD workers who deal with reports from the public about problems, errors and fraud in the system.
"Remove from your inbox," the e-mail reads. "You do not need to do anything else with them." That means hundreds of people who wrote DWD about problems and waited for a response are likely still waiting. No one ever read your letter or e-mail. It was likely deleted.
"He wanted the number down so he sent an e-mail out department-wide to delete 50 a day," said Gray.
For reducing the caseload, Ronnie Miller was honored by the governor with the prestigious public service achievement award. Miller, who now works in the private sector as an attorney specializing in ethics, refused our request for an interview.
Workers allege it wasn't quality, but quantity and quotas that mattered.
Ken says there was a motto in the department that decided whether unemployed Hoosiers are eligible for unemployment.
"Read it and write it, or read and write for short," said Ken . . .DWD Commissioner Mark Everson refused to be interviewed by Dewberry for the story. She finally attempted to ask questions of him at a monthly meeting where he made a presentation. He left the room quickly to avoid answering her questions. A spokesperson for the agency told Dewberry to submit her questions via e-mail. She got a response with a general denial and nothing more.
Imagine if Gov. Daniels was running for president right now. The Obama administration would have the national media all over the Department asking questions about why it has the worst error rates in the country. The reporters would also be packed in Judge David Dreyer's courtroom in downtown Indianapolis where the state and IBM are suing each other trying to learn all they could about how badly Daniels privatization of the Family & Social Services Administration failed, costing taxpayers more than $500 million. With no national campaign, it's up to the local news media to scrutinize the Daniels administration, which generally treats it with kid gloves.