By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — From the Unemployment Insurance disaster at the Department of Workforce Development to the Department of Health Services’s botched COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, the Evers administration’s failures are piling up.
Is it any wonder? With so few state employees physically showing up for work at taxpayer-funded state office buildings, virtual government has created real-life headaches, and worse, for Wisconsinites.
“Anyone can manage in good times. It takes good managers to manage in bad times,” said Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. “We’ve had a lot of challenges over the last year. I think you’ve had a good opportunity to evaluate how (Gov Tony Evers’) administration and his managers have done, and it’s not been good.”
Evers’ DWD melted down in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. The Democrat locked down much of the state, including thousands of “non-essential” state employees. The stay-at-home orders tossed hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites out of work. Tens of thousands were forced to wait months for unemployment benefits thanks to Evers’ failure to plan and a rudderless DWD amid the storms of crisis.
Months after Evers’ Department of Health Services began distributing COVID-19 vaccines, it still hadn’t reached some of the state’s most vulnerable populations. Last month, members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation asked the governor why residents at assisted living homes had not received a final dose — even a single dose, in some cases — of the vaccine. About the same time, we also learned the Evers administration had failed to count nearly 1,000 COVID deaths among long-term care facilities.
Officials from Department of Natural Resources recently told the Joint Finance Committee that agents have not been doing permit inspections for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) or handling culvert applications during the pandemic. Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) said some townships have been forced to hire independent engineers so they can finish much-needed culvert replacements — all because DNR “did not leave their basements” over the past year.
DNR Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs earlier this month said only 10 percent of agency employees were reporting to the office to work. The vast majority still are working remotely.
Felzkowski noted that DNR wardens remained on the job to enforce the laws but agents to assist businesses and local governments seemed to have taken the year off.
“But that’s the idea of this administration. The building is on lockdown. Very few of the agencies are in working. Hill Farms (multi-agency state office building). The Department of Natural Resources, empty. What is the percentage of people that are working (in the offices)? Very few,” Felzkowski said.
Empower Wisconsin asked the Department of Administration those questions — how many of the 71,000-plus state employees are working at their offices and not remotely? DOA did not respond.
The latest DOA guidance, however, advises employees, “it is anticipated that normal state operations will resume on July 5.” Beginning on May 5, general office space occupancy will be limited to 25 percent of “pre-pandemic levels with appropriate COVID-19 mitigation measures.”
How many more missteps will we see from this virtual administration before then?