Editorial: Labor pick has mountain of job ahead

The Editorial Advisory Board
Gov. Laura Kelly

It doesn’t take much to see that the Kansas Department of Labor is a mess, a hot mess, in fact.

IT failures with the state’s unemployment system during the current national pandemic with massive unemployment have exposed an already aged and overworked system to other issues and caused massive delays preventing Kansans from receiving benefits they are entitled to and desperately need.

Then, of course, there are the duplicate payments for Pandemic Unemployment Insurance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation that were made and then that June 10 clawback which was made without Gov. Laura Kelly’s consent. It ultimately caused Labor Secretary Delia Garcia to have to resign.

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to point out the flaws and issues, but we’re sure these were not done out of sheer incompetence or intentional malice.

With Garcia’s departure, it’s now time to hit reset on this embattled department.

Getting this situation turned around won’t be simple. The many problems this department faces are the result of years of neglect by previous governors. As a result, we can’t hold Gov. Kelly culpable for those failures entirely. There’s no band-aid. No quick fix.

Nevertheless, fixing it is the responsibility of our state’s chief executive. We’re going to need a top-down solution. It seems there’s yet another mess Gov. Sam Brownback made that you’ll be asked to clean up.

We don’t have time to waste, however. Find a labor secretary who is up for the task. Kansans are depending on those benefits now more than ever. This needs to be your administration’s top priority, and we’re going to need to see linear progress quickly.

Kelly already placed her deputy chief of staff, Ryan Wright, into the interim role while she searches for a replacement and also announced she will bring in specialists to investigate improvements to the state’s unemployment insurance program. So far that all seems fairly top-down.

We wish Wright the best of luck in the meantime. Do whatever you can to help shore up the problems in the department.

Whomever Kelly picks to lead this department in the long term will need to be step up to the challenge head on. We hope she finds someone who is knowledgeable and understanding and also strategic and prompt.

This state’s next secretary of labor will need to be given the latitude to overhaul the department on a quick turnaround. That job won’t be for the faint of heart. Too many Kansans rely on the department to just give the appointment to anyone.