DES MOINES, Iowa — The Legislative Oversight Committee, which began investigating the Department of Administrative Services last spring, will turn its attention to Iowa Workforce Development next week.
Lawmakers want to question IWD Director, Teresa Wahlert, about allegations she tried to influence Administrative Law Judges. At least two former judges claim Wahlert pressured them to side with employers in unemployment appeals cases. The Oversight Committee also has questions about what IWD calls a computer “glitch” that resulted in the overpayments of unemployment benefits to 85 people. The total overpayments, according to IWD was $27,000.
Internal, IWD emails show some who received the money reported the mistake, others even offered to pay back the money. But in most cases IWD allowed the recipients to keep the money.
“Because it’s the department’s error, we have the authority to waive that,” said IWD Spokesperson, Kerry Koonce.
Senator Janet Petersen, the Chair of the Oversight Committee has a lot of questions about the error and how it was handled.
“I want to know where they determined only 85 overpayments were made.”
Petersen also has questions about a confidential memo sent by an IWD manager to fraud investigators about the error. In it, David Eklund tells investigators, “THIS INFORMATION CANNOT BE DISSEMINATED OR DISCUSSED OUTSIDE OF THOSE ON THIS EMAIL.”
It goes on to say, “The decision to manually enter this week (MANBATCH = manual batch processing) was made at the highest level of this organization and it has been made extremely clear to me that we are not to question the decision.”
The email ends with this warning, “DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES forward this e-mail to anyone or there will be repercussions.”
Koonce says Wahlert decided how to hand the “glitch.” As for the secrecy surrounding it, Koonce says there were several rumors and speculation about whether people entitled to benefits would receive them, and “we didn’t want to scare” them.
Petersen says Iowans deserve to know about problems in State government.
“I think it`s very alarming that emails are going out to fraud investigators telling them what they can and can’t say.”
She also suspects more problems will be uncovered during the hearings on August 26th and 27th.
“It makes you wonder if there are other things going on in the department that are being swept under the rug.”
Read some of the “confidential” emails below: