Lawrence municipal services manager named secretary at IT-plagued labor department

Amber Shultz’ appointment subject to Senate confirmation

By: - January 29, 2021 3:16 pm
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly pledges to veto any emergency management law passed by the 2021 Legislature that jeopardizes the state's response to COVID-19, while the Kansas Senate positions itself for a GOP-inspired veto override. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)for expansion of Medicaid with revenue drawn from legalizing medicinal marijuana. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly pledges to veto any emergency management law passed by the 2021 Legislature that jeopardizes the state’s response to COVID-19, while the Kansas Senate positions itself for a GOP-inspired veto override. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly selected a Lawrence woman with 25 years of experience in the technology and innovation field to serve as secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor, officials said Friday.

Amber Shultz, general manager of Lawrence’s municipal services and operations department, will serve at the labor department as acting secretary. Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the Kansas Senate.

Her immediate challenges include the effort to manage unemployment claims tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and an initiative to modernize the labor department’s computer network. The age of the system produced a massive backlog of jobless claims in 2020 and has been rocked by apparently fraudulent claims that compelled the agency to temporarily shut down the network to make security upgrades.

Gov. Laura Kelly nominated Amber Shultz of Lawrence to serve as secretary at the Kansas Department of Labor. Her nomination is subject to confirmation by the Kansas Senate. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)
Gov. Laura Kelly nominated Amber Shultz of Lawrence to serve as secretary at the Kansas Department of Labor. Her nomination is subject to confirmation by the Kansas Senate. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)

The budget presented by the Kelly administration to the 2021 Legislature would set aside $37.5 million to continue the process of modernizing the labor department’s 40-year-old information technology system.

“When we began the search for the permanent secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor, we knew we needed someone who could both lead the agency in its continued efforts to improve services for unemployed Kansans and oversee a complete overhaul of the out-of-date IT system,” Kelly said. “Amber has a wealth of leadership experience when it comes to technology and innovation.”

In Lawrence, Shultz worked to rebuild the city’s enterprise and operational services and facilitate efficient data management. She began her career as a research assistant at the Kansas Data Access and Support Center at the Kansas Geological Survey. She has held jobs in Kansas and Missouri related to data and asset management, systems administration and technical innovation. She earned a master’s degree in business at the University of Kansas.

“I value public service along with utilizing innovation and technology to solve problems and I will use this experience along with our team to address the challenges ahead,” Shultz said.

Kelly said she appreciated contributions of Ryan Wright and Brett Flachsbarth, who both worked as acting labor secretary since June. They filled in after secretary Delia Garcia resigned amid complaints the Kansas unemployment system didn’t live up to expectations during the pandemic.

Garcia also was held responsible for a decision to reverse $7 million in duplicate payments to more than 4,500 people, which caused chaos when some bank accounts were overdrawn. She apparently initiated the clawback process without consulting the governor’s office.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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