Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

During COVID, the State of California Employment Development Department was in the news for gargantuan wait times and backlogs. Those calling in never got through. By which I mean never.

This May 2023 article makes clear that the crisis continues. Drawing my attention this week was the frustration experienced by a family member. They couldn’t get through on the phone and finally went to the Van Nuys office. After waiting an hour, they found a sympathetic employee (none of this is employees’ fault) who nevertheless could not provide any firm assurance, given the limitations of the Clinton-era computer systems they are rocking, that the problem had been solved. That could only be done by someone tapping on computer keys elsewhere.

I could buy a car on-line in the next half hour and, if I didn’t like it, type for 30 more seconds and work out a plan for returning it. The only limitation would be my not having a printer large enough for the pre-paid return label. If government cared about voters and taxpayers as much as business cares about customers, California would call Jeff Bezos and say, “Is there a way for a state worker in Van Nuys to use their computer to answer a routine question about a benefit without having to wait for another worker in another office to do something? Or could there be, like, a website where information could be made clear to the citizen?” And Bezos would say, “I thought you’d never ask. Because for the last 20 years, I’ve been doing immensely more complicated things in the course of making myself immensely rich.”

Why doesn’t Gov. Newsom make that call? The only logical answer is that he doesn’t have to. Unlike with Bezos, the profit motive is not a factor. Most of those relying on EDD are working- or middle-class folks. Politicians have evidently concluded that, in our bluest of states, their jobs aren’t in danger because EDD puts hundreds of thousands of them through incalculable bureaucratic agony every year.

Otherwise the governor might well decide he was going to spend a day a week answering the phones at an EDD office as a way of loading so much shame onto the shoulders of state officials that they at long last make a call to Silicon Valley and begin the process of bringing EDD, the DMV, and [insert your favorite agency here] into the 21st century.

But California doesn’t have to. Treat people in red and purple states like this, of course, and you don’t get Newsom. I believe everyone knows what you get instead.