In this 2019 photo, Gov. Jay Inslee (left) looks on as Suzi LeVine (right), then the state’s Employment Security Department Commissioner, talks to reporters at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren,File)

In this 2019 photo, Gov. Jay Inslee (left) looks on as Suzi LeVine (right), then the state’s Employment Security Department Commissioner, talks to reporters at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren,File)

Former state employment chief leaves Labor Department job

Suzi LeVine said the agency’s move to in-office work clashed with her family obligations in Seattle.

  • Paul Roberts, The Seattle Times
  • Wednesday, August 25, 2021 6:32am
  • Northwest

By Paul Roberts / The Seattle Times

Suzi LeVine, former head of the Washington Employment Security Department, has resigned from the Biden administration post she took less than seven months ago over concerns about the job’s impacts on her family.

Friday was LeVine’s last day as acting assistant secretary of the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), a Labor Department agency that oversees state unemployment systems, according to a Saturday post on LeVine’s LinkedIn page. Her departure, first reported Monday by Bloomberg Law, had been rumored last week.

LeVine, like other Labor Department officials, had been doing the job remotely. But the agency’s move back to in-office work clashed with her family obligations in Seattle, she said.

“With my daughter heading into her final two years of high school and an 83-year-old mom, relocating is not an option for my family right now,” LeVine said in her LinkedIn post. Several recent trips to Washington, D.C., helped LeVine “realize that my idea that I could commute weekly from Seattle is not viable,” she said.

LeVine described the decision to step down as “gut-wrenching.”

LeVine’s appointment, which started Feb. 1, came amid criticism of ESD for its handling of unemployment claims during the pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, the agency struggled under a wave of jobless claims as tens of thousands of people were laid off. Most other states saw similar problems. The ESD also came under fire, including by the state Auditor’s Office, for its handling of a fraud scheme that siphoned off roughly $650 million in state and federal unemployment benefits. Around $370 million has since been recovered from the scheme, which struck many other states.

LeVine’s appointment had also come amid heightened scrutiny around the politics of presidential appointments. LeVine has been a major player in the Democratic Party, and she and her husband, Eric LeVine, were big contributors to Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.

LeVine was U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the Obama administration and served as deputy national finance chair, a volunteer position, for the Democratic National Committee, between 2017 and 2021, where she helped “obtain the resources to build the grassroots and technology needed for the DNC,” according to LinkedIn. She is also a former Microsoft and Expedia executive.

At ESD, LeVine’s allies says she helped revive a dysfunctional and demoralized state agency and used her technical and management expertise to modernize critical agency systems.

Her allies say LeVine faced a similar challenge at ETA, which had suffered high turnover and low employee morale under the Trump administration.

In her LinkedIn post, Levine said she had accomplished her main goals at ETA, including efforts to “help heal and rebuild the organization — especially through the transition in Administrations” and “keep the proverbial trains on the tracks — especially given the sprawling nature of ETA.”

A Labor Department spokesperson said, “The Department is grateful for Suzi Levine’s service and accomplishments during her tenure leading the Employment and Training Administration and while we are sorry for her departure, we support her decision to focus on her family in Seattle.”

LeVine’s position at ETA has been filled temporarily by Lenita Jacobs-Simmons, a longtime agency official, Bloomberg Law reported.

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