When I launched this series, I had no idea how often I’d have enough material for another edition. Turns out, it takes roughly one week. That’s almost one story per day. Here we go again with a healthy dose of Stupidity in the Public Sphere…
The Try to Fix a Problem, It Comes Back, Try the Same Thing Again, It Doesn’t Work, Try It Again, Another Fail, Try Again, You Know What They Say About History Repeating Itself Award goes to the Scott Administration for failing to address the repeated failures of the Labor Department. The weekend brought yet another story about unemployed Vermonters waiting weeks to get their checks or hours on hold to the Department’s call center.
It’s been one thing after another for DOL since the beginning of the pandemic. Its excuses have some truth in them; the UI system is a victim of long-term negligence at the federal level, and last spring’s tsunami of unemployment claims was unprecedented and unforeseeable.
Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington was dealt a bad hand, but he’s played it poorly. He has overseen failure after failure. Not only was he not fired or punished or removed to a quiet corner of the DMV, he actually got a promotion while his department was in flames. But it’s not all on him.
After the jump: Conspiracy theorists get their minute in court, a town ducks a feel-bad story, and a newspaper trolls avidly for advertisers’ favor.
Submitted for your consideration: Michael Harrington, commissioner of the Department of Labor, and three-time offender against good government.
The latest offense is a massive cockup in printing IRS Forms 1099 for Vermonters who collected unemployment benefits in 2020. Tens of thousands of people received forms that contained other people’s personal information instead of their own, which is a low-tech kind of privacy breach in our age of digital hacking.
This will require a costly fix. DOL will reprint all 180,000 forms and mail them all out, plus it will provide prepaid envelopes to those who got bad 1099s so they can return the faulty forms at no cost. Harrington also said his department has contacted the Attorney General’s office as required by state law, in case there are legal repercussions.
VTDigger reports that this is DOL’s second data breach since the pandemic began. The first, back in March, saw DOL send nearly six thousand Vermonters’ Social Security numbers to employers not connected with their cases.
But while it was the second data breach, it was the third major administrative failure by DOL during the pandemic.
Gov. Phil Scott called it a “shortcoming.” I’d put it in the realm of “humanitarian disaster.” He said “we should have pressed harder.” I’d say his administration failed to press at all.
To be fair, Scott’s comments came yesterday, when there were *only* 85 known positive Covid-19 tests among Vermont’s 219 inmates housed in a for-profit Mississippi prison. Today that total jumped to 147.
So maybe now he’d rephrase his remarks. And maybe now his Susan Collins-style disappointment will spark some real action. Maybe some heads will roll.
But I doubt it. That’s not his style. After all, he gave no thought to replacing Melissa Jackson as head of the Vermont Veterans’ Home after she traveled to Washington, D.C. to give Congressional testimony in person (when she could have done it via Zoom) and then, upon returning to Bennington, spent five hours in her office before going into self-quarantine.
Jackson called it “poor judgment” instead of the more appropriate “dereliction of professional responsibility.” And Scott’s comms chief Rebecca Kelley issued a statement saying “the governor is not sure it warrants her removal but certainly deserves additional discussion.”
Yeah, let’s have additional discussion. Maybe appoint a committee or something. Or just express concern and move on. Nothing to see here, folks.
The official responsible for the Scott administration’s biggest clusterf*ck to date has been … rewarded with a promotion?
You can tell the Gov had no qualms about removing the “interim” tag from Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington’s business cards because he [checks notes] announced the news at 4:56 p.m. last Friday.
Yeah, the classic weekend newsdump.
Harrington, voted the administration official most likely to be featured in the Lands’ End fall catalogue in an imaginary poll, was named interim DOL chief last September in a Falling of the Cabinet Dominos — old-school hardass Tom Anderson stepped down as public safety chief, Commerce Secretary Michael Schirling replaced him, then-labor commissioner Lindsay Kurrle slid into Schirling’s seat, and then-deputy labor commish Harrington moved up the ladder.
His interimship has featured the failure of a long-overdue upgrade of unemployment insurance software, and the UI system’s collapse under the unprecedented demands of the Covid-19 pandemic. Neither can be fully blamed on Harrington; in many ways he was dealt a really bad hand at the worst possible time.
But still. When a team performs poorly, the coach gets the zig. You might say Harrington is the Hue Jackson of Team Scott. It wasn’t entirely Jackson’s fault that the Cleveland Browns had a 3-36-1 record — the front office was a disaster, and Jimmy Haslam may be the worst owner in the NFL. But the coach bore the brunt.