Top labor official to leave agency

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Brett Flachsbarth, a top lieutenant at the state Labor Department who is credited with knowing the ins and outs of the unemployment insurance system, is leaving the agency.

Flachsbarth – described by one human resources professional as a “rock star” – on Wednesday confirmed that he plans to leave the Labor Department on June 15.

Brett Flachsbarth

He will be taking a job with the National Association of State Workforce Agencies as director of UI Information Technology Support Center Solutions.

Flachsbarth’s departure comes at a time when the agency is embarking on modernizing its aging computer system, which was badly exposed when the pandemic hit and the state was flooded with unemployment claims.

He had been responsible for overseeing the modernization effort as well as human resources, labor market information services as well as the legal and workers compensation teams.

By virtue of his knowledge of the agency, the 16-year veteran was repeatedly the agency’s point man in answering questions about the unemployment insurance system.

Flachsbarth regularly appeared before legislative committees to address questions from angry lawmakers demanding answers about how the Labor Department was responding to the pandemic.

He was frequently answering questions about unanswered calls about unemployment benefits, fraudulent unemployment claims and the fiscal health of the state’s unemployment trust fund.

“It seemed liked he knew every aspect of every aspect of that department,” said Republican state Rep. Sean Tarwater, chair of the House commerce committee.

“The HR professionals are dreading this day,” Tarwater said. “He knows so much about so much there.”

The Overland Park Republican had been a sharp critic over how the Labor Department responded to the pandemic and the ensuing flood of unemployment claims that swamped the agency.

“I think he did the best he could do with what he was given,” Tarwater said

He said Flachsbarth’s departure will be felt as the state moves forward with the modernization of the computer system.

Tarwater said he trusts Labor Secretary Amber Shultz to carry out the modernization efforts.

“It would have been nice to have somebody there that knows everything about the department, especially given the tasks of the Modernization Council.”

The Legislature this year passed a bill creating a committee to provide more oversight of the Kansas Labor Department and the modernization efforts.

Flachsbarth was one of two acting secretaries who led the department after former Secretary Delia Garcia resigned when it was revealed the agency made about $7 million in duplicate unemployment payments to more than 4,500 people.

Flachsbarth joined the Kansas Department of Labor in 2005 as a member of the agency’s legal team with his tenure spanning five Kansas governors – three Democrats and two Republicans.

He was appointed deputy labor secretary in January 2019, about a year before the agency was hit by the pandemic.

During his time with the agency, heworked in a variety of roles including director of unemployment insurance, chief of appeals, counsel to the Employment Security Board of Review and counsel to the Public Employee Relations Board.

Phil Hayes, a human resources professional from Sedgwick County, has been working with Flachsbarth for about a dozen years.

He works with Flachsbarth as a member of the Kansas Employment Security Board of Review.

“He had a lot of continuity of knowledge across different segments of the department,” Hayes said of Flachsbarth.

“His knowledge and experience within the department, I think, is going to be greatly missed. There’s definitely going to be a huge void.

“Kansas is certainly going to miss him,” Hayes said. Those are going to be huge shoes for anybody to fill.”