Grassley: It’s Past Time for the Federal Government to Get to Work

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Two years ago this month, things started shutting down due to COVID.

In March 2020, employees were furloughed or sent to work from home. Schools were closed. Events were cancelled and everyone was told to stay home.


Now two years later, a lot has changed in the fight against COVID.

Tests and treatments have been developed. Anyone who wants a vaccine can get one.

High quality masks are available free for anyone who chooses to wear them.

These masks protect the one wearing it regardless of the choices others around them make.

Restaurants, theaters and sports venues are filling back up. Demand for air travel is above pre-pandemic levels.

Yet, our federal government remains frozen in time, operating as if it were still the spring of 2020.

Federal agencies remain shuttered to the taxpayers that fund it.

Expensive office buildings in downtown DC are sitting deserted. 50 percent of the executive branch workforce is still working remotely, and most have no plans to return to the office.

Some agencies such as the VA had previously announced efforts to return to in-person work. Those plans have been indefinitely postponed.

The U.S. Capitol Building is closed to the public, despite nearly every state capital building in the country finding a way to reopen.

Federal employees are here to serve the taxpayers. Agencies like the VA, IRS and Social Security Administration that are responsible for processing benefit claims and tax refunds need to be fully operational, plain and simple.

The USDA Farm Service Offices, located in every Iowa county, are responsible for signing up farmers for the Conservation Reserve Program and crop insurance.

Right now, county offices are the busiest as farmers prepare for the upcoming crop year. These county offices still require employees to work from home.

USDA employees have to meet with farmers to go over detailed maps of their land, making it nearly impossible even with video calls.

I’ve received letters from farmers and USDA employees alike who are frustrated they can’t have in-person meetings.

Backlogs persist across the federal government and show no signs of abating.

The National Personnel Records Center, responsible for providing service records to veterans seeking benefits, has not been fully staffed since March 2020.

They have a backlog of records requests so massive that it will take years to correct. For two years now, the agency has been processing emergency requests only, while the other requests just pile up.

This agency needs employees in the office to function. They are currently staffed at just 25 percent capacity.

They have announced they will not return to full operational status until “the public health emergency has ended.” Who knows when that will be?

I guess veterans waiting to finish their applications for benefits will just have to wait.

The IRS only answers nine percent of customer support calls.

They are already warning that this tax filing season is going to be a mess for those filing, and there is still a backlog of unprocessed returns from last year. Yet, thousands of IRS employees remain out of the office.

Those trying to become US citizens have been stuck in limbo for years. Records that USCIS needs to process their applications are locked in the Federal Records Centers, which are only open at 25 percent capacity.

Even the few agencies that have announced a plan to return to in-person work are not acting with a sense of urgency. The Social Security Administration announced the reopening of field offices in April.

I guess they figure those who have already been waiting for two years can wait another few months.

My staff that help Iowans with casework told me that the average number of days to get assistance from a federal agency has doubled to 335 days.

It takes almost a year to get an issue with a federal agency resolved. This is completely unacceptable.

In the spring of 2020, it seemed as if there was no choice. Caution at that time, was warranted.

But might I remind the heads of federal agencies that even at that time, millions of Americans did not work from home.

Nurses, doctors and first-responders still went to work in person. Employees of grocery stores, delivery drivers and warehouse workers still showed up to work in person.

For millions of Americans, working from home was never an option. Their jobs were essential, and they continued to work to keep our society functioning.

While some federal employees may be able to do their jobs effectively from home, the persistent lack of responsiveness from federal agencies make it clear that not all can.

It is not acceptable to tell taxpayers that they must wait for services that they need because those in charge are too skittish to make a return-to-work plan.

It’s past time for agency heads to set a date for employees to return to serving the people in person.

That’s why I was proud to join Senator Wicker in introducing the RETURN Act, which would require agencies to share their plans to bring back the workforce within 30 days. I urge my colleges to support this bill and get the government back to work.

I also urge President Biden to follow the example of Iowa’s Governor Reynolds and show leadership on this matter.

Iowa schools have been fully open in Iowa for a year. Governor Reynolds has ended the state’s Public Health Disaster Emergency Proclamation.

This doesn’t mean ignoring the spread of COVID-19 going forward. Of course there should be accommodations for those at high risk.

But, there is no justification for maintaining a state of emergency as though it was still March 2020.

Taxpayers have a right to a responsive government.

Most Americans are back to work.

It’s past time for the federal government to catch up.

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