On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) spoke on the Senate floor, demanding accountability for federal agencies that are abusing remote work on the taxpayer’s dime.
Ernst is requesting an investigation of every major department and agency to determine the impact of telework on the delivery and response times of services, how much taxpayer money could be saved by consolidating unused office space, and what steps have been taken to adjust bureaucrats’ location-based salaries for those who have relocated and chosen to remain out of the office.
Ernst’s full remarks:
“Mr. President, while I was home in Iowa this past month, I wrapped up my annual River to River tour, where I hear directly from Iowans in all 99 counties every single year.
“Our government is designed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people, and that’s why I’m committed to hearing from Iowans in every corner of our state and every county.
“It’s my job to bring their voices—loud and clear—to Washington where I have the honor and privilege of representing them in this great body.
“Now that the Senate is back in session, we have lots of unfinished business that impacts Iowans’ lives, from funding the government to renewing the Farm Bill.
“It is here in the nation’s capital that we gather to complete this work on behalf of our fellow Americans.
“While the Senate is once again bustling with activity—I see we even have a new class of Senate pages representing us and they are here for duty. You’ve reported for duty, right? Welcome to all of our new pages. Thank you for your service as well, and the halls of Washington’s bureaucracies, as we look about this city, they remain largely empty and hollow.
“And that, folks, is a top issue for Iowa taxpayers and folks across the country.
“Thousands of calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs from veterans seeking mental health services are going unanswered.
“Desperate travelers are waiting hours on the phone or in line hoping to speak with someone at the State Department about passport delays that are causing vacation cancelations.
“Our seniors are calling the Social Security Administration and are increasingly being greeted with busy messages, waiting longer to speak to a representative, or having their calls go unanswered altogether as the agency shifts towards remote work.
“Frustrated Americans are being put on hold while too many federal employees are phoning it in.
“A manager of a VA medical center responsible for overseeing the scheduling of veterans’ care appointments actually, and get this, folks, this is no joke. An overseer for scheduling veterans’ care appointments called in to a meeting from a bubble bath—and even posted a selfie of it on social media with the caption, “my office for the next hour.”
“Another VA staffer lamented, “It’s almost as if this employee is making a mockery of all veterans. I can sit here in my tub and relax, and you just have to wait.”
“And that is exactly what is happening.
“The VA is still providing misleading wait times to hide the problem, but the heartbreaking stories of veterans continuing to go without urgent, medically-necessary care—sometimes for months—tells the whole story.
“Taxpayers are also picking up the cost of maintaining mostly empty buildings in Washington.
“Seventy-five percent or more of the office space at the headquarters of most of our federal agencies is not being used.
“The vacant offices beg the question: Where are all of the federal employees?
“Only one out of every three bureaucrats is fully back in the office. One out of every three, according to a recent Office of Personnel Management survey.
“Some said they “never” report to a physical office.
“The work locations of over 281 thousand employees were redacted from data provided in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by the nonprofit group Open the Books. 281 thousand employees.
“Well, I have some questions: who are these folks and what exactly are they doing?
“Has the Biden Administration been bamboozled into thinking these bureaucrats are operating out of some secret cave like Batman?
“I’m working to find these secret locations, which are more likely to turn out to be man caves than bat caves.
“In his 2022 State of the Union Address, President Biden pledged that “the vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person.”
“Well, here we are, a year and a half later, and the nation’s capital remains a ghost town and government employee unions are fighting efforts to bring bureaucrats back.
“Folks, I am all for moving federal agencies out of Washington—that’s exactly what my bill, the SWAMP Act, would do.
“The intent is to make those creating the rules more accountable to the hardworking Iowans and Americans who have to live under them.
“But letting federal employees work when, and where, and even if they want to, is having the exact opposite effect.
“Consider as many as 30 percent of Department of Health and Human Services remote employees did not appear to be working on any given day during the pandemic. And again, these are Health and Human Services remote employees. During a pandemic you would think they would be working. They did not appear to be working, according to an internal review of employee logins to the agency’s email and file systems. So, hello federal employees, we actually can see when you’re working and when you’re not.
“Folks, remote work should not be confused with flipping through channels with a TV remote.
“This, folks, is not remote work!
“Growing up on a farm, I know what working from home really means. And it ain’t easy!
“It’s not fair to let the responsibilities of running a federal agency—and the country—fall on the shoulders of hardworking public servants who are showing up while others are out golfing on the taxpayers’ dime.
“That is why I have asked the Inspector General of every single federal department and agency to determine, first, the impact of telework on the delivery and response times of services, and second, how much taxpayer money could be saved by consolidating unused office space and adjusting government salaries for those who have relocated and chosen to remain out of the office.
“Most of America is back to work, and it’s time for burrowed bureaucrats in Washington to answer the call of duty on behalf of taxpayers, veterans, seniors, and our great nation.”