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Washington auditor to investigate employment security department weaknesses

The Washington State Auditor’s Office will launch five audits after criminals used stolen identities to collect millions in unemployment benefits.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) is launching five separate audits to identify weaknesses in the state’s Employment Security Department (ESD). The audits come after criminals used stolen identities to file and receive unemployment claims totaling up to $650 million.

The first report is expected to be released in November or December.

Officials with the SAO acknowledged the audits will not do much to speed up the processing for thousands of legitimate claimants caught in the backlog as the ESD tries to sort through the claims.

“That’s really in ESD’s court,” said SAO spokesman Adam Wilson. “We’re looking at things in the rear-view mirror trying to improve things for the future.”

RELATED: Feds say early warning to Washington agency didn't curb unemployment fraud

ESD’s regularly scheduled accountability audit was already underway when the pandemic struck, according to Director of Statewide Audits Sadie Armijo.

Armijo and Director of Performance and IT Audits Scott Frank said all five audits listed below should be up and running by August:

  • Accountability audit: Results expected in December 2020
  • Washington federal grant audit: Required after fraud involving federal grants – due March 2021
  • Financial statements audit: Expected release November 2020
  • IT systems audit: Looks for technology weaknesses
  • Performance audit: Major audit that ties all findings together – expected release March/April 2021

The audits are in addition to federal criminal investigations of domestic and international fraudsters who tapped into ESD’s claims system as the state loosened security to speed up processing as the COVID-19 pandemic swept Washington workers into the unemployment benefits process.

RELATED: 5 tips for victims of unemployment fraud and others applying for benefits in Washington

“We will let them do their thing,” Armijo said of the FBI’s investigation.

Armijo said the more difficult problem is working with ESD, whose employees are already overwhelmed trying to process claims, in addition to answering questions from auditors and agents.

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