Director for Michigan's embattled unemployment agency named in leadership shuffle

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The newly named director of Michigan's Department of Technology, Management and Budget will change roles again to lead the problem-plagued Unemployment Insurance Agency. 

On Monday, Julia Dale was named director for the jobless aid agency — taking over for Acting Director Liza Estlund Olson — in a statement released by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office.

The statement came a little more than three weeks after Dale was named director for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget and less than two weeks after Estlund Olson's position was posted as open Oct. 8. 

The Department of Technology, Management and Budget's chief deputy director Michelle Lange will take over as acting director in Dale's stead. Estlund Olson will stay on at the UIA temporarily to assist with Dale's transition before going back to her former role as director of the Office of the State Employer. 

“Julia will hit the ground running and I am proud to have a permanent director leading the way at UIA,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Under her leadership, I am confident that UIA will clear the backlog, tackle waste, fraud and abuse, and get people the resources they need while saving taxpayer dollars.” 

Julia Dale

Prior to her time at the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, Dale served as an assistant attorney general in the business and charities section and did some work with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. 

“As we emerge from the pandemic, there is so much work to do to ensure that we can deliver benefits to families who need them, and I cannot wait to pursue long overdue changes and work with the incredible staff to get things done," Dale said.

Rep. Steve Johnson, the Wayland Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, said Monday he looked forward to working with Dale to improve customer service. 

“There was a clear and concerning pattern of failure in leadership at the agency," Johnson said. "That failure unfortunately trickled down to everyday people who have been looking for assistance from the agency to support their families, put food on the table and get by in an unprecedented time for our state." 

Estlund Olson took over leadership of the Unemployment Insurance Agency in November after the former director, Steve Gray, resigned with a more than $85,000 settlement deal that required him to "maintain confidentiality" about his departure. 

The agency had to make hundreds of changes over the last 18 months amid new federal pandemic programs and changing executive orders, making it difficult to process record claims and defend against record attempts at fraud.

In recent weeks, House lawmakers have led an inquiry into various issues at the agency. House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, called for Estlund Olson's resignation and a House majority a short time after approved a resolution calling for her resignation.

Estlund Olson defended the work of the agency while testifying before lawmakers in September.

"I absolutely take responsibility for what I have done since I entered this agency," Estlund Olson said. "We have had to make decisions on what are priorities to get money out the door."

"...For those calling for my removal, this is not an easy job," she said. "If it were, the previous administration had eight years and seven UI directors who could have made changes a long time ago."

Whitmer also announced Monday that Laura Clark, the state's chief security officer, will also take on the responsibility of directing the state's technology and digital security efforts at chief information officer.