Gov. Jay Inslee’s scalding report on failures at the Department of Corrections is refreshingly candid and a good start. But more work remains to be done.
GOV. Jay Inslee released a remarkably candid report last week on systemic failures at the Department of Corrections.
Unlike the usual bland government mea culpa released on a sleepy Friday afternoon, Inslee’s report was prompt, direct and excoriating.
The report dissected why the DOC took 13 years to fix a software glitch that released thousands of prisoners early, including two convicts charged with killing people when they should have been serving out their sentences. This scandal will lead to costly lawsuits and permanently stain the history of Washington’s governance.
Inslee’s swift and aggressive response since he was informed of the problem in December is commendable. But it doesn’t let him completely off the hook for a festering problem at the third largest agency he’s been overseeing for three years.
The previous governor, Chris Gregoire, and former Attorney General Rob McKenna also lose points for missteps by managers under their supervision.
Inslee’s report also does not negate the state Senate’s parallel investigation. It remains to be seen whether senators will uncover substantial new information, but a legislative inquiry, including public hearings and testimony by employees directly involved, is valuable.
A third investigation, by the state attorney general, is still ongoing.
In the meantime, Inslee should move quickly on changes recommended by his report, which was done by former federal prosecutors now at the Yarmuth Wilsdon law firm in Seattle.
They concluded that the early prisoner releases were caused by “a series of errors, coupled with bureaucratic incompetence, systemic failures of process and management, and an inexplicable failure” by the institution and individuals to recognize that even one prisoner released early. They failed their mission of protecting the public.
Some of the recommended fixes are so obvious, it’s shocking they weren’t in place already. At times, DOC management and the information-technology department come across like characters in the “Dilbert” comic strip.
One recommended change: “Managers must effectively monitor work to ensure that it is being performed properly.”
To his credit, Inslee last month put in place new accountability measures at all state agencies. They were directed to inventory all critical IT systems, identify and triage any lingering issues, and pinpoint managers responsible for each system.
This should be standard practice for the chief executive of every state and local government agency — when they take office, not after problems and mismanagement are revealed.
That’s the big lesson from Inslee’s report: Technology systems are no longer a separate domain. They are now integral to the operation and performance of government — just like in the business world — and they’re the responsibility of all managers, not just those in IT.
As this takes hold in Olympia, all but two agencies, under the governor’s responsibility, have complied with Inslee’s Jan. 29 deadline to implement new accountability measures. Still working on it are the DOC and the Department of Social and Health Services.
All but two of the agencies led by other elected officials voluntarily complied with Inslee’s IT directive, as of Friday afternoon. The public lands commissioner and the secretary of state should get on board.
While a handful of individuals are called out by Inslee’s report and are likely facing consequences, other state employees should not read this as a civil-service witch hunt.
Rather, it should be read as a treatise for whistle-blowing.
A DOC records manager, Wendy Stigall, is lauded for recognizing the software error and raising a red flag multiple times over several months. Good for her.
However, when the bureaucracy did not respond, and her request for a fix was inexplicably delayed 16 times by an apathetic IT manager, “Ms. Stigall appears to have done little to nothing in the intervening period of almost three years to get this problem corrected.”
What she should’ve done is file a whistleblower report with the state auditor. Or she could have called the investigative team at The Seattle Times.