Add Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst to the growing list of lawmakers who have had enough of pandemic-era federal telework policies.
Ernst on Tuesday sent letters to the inspectors general across major federal departments and agencies asking them to investigate how telework has impacted service delivery and resulted in wasted taxpayer dollars as office space at federal buildings goes unused.
On top of that, Ernst said she would like to know worksite attendance rates at each agency and if steps have been taken “to adjust bureaucrats’ location-based salaries for those who have relocated and chosen to remain out of the office.”
“Growing up on a farm, I know what working from home actually means,” Ernst said in a release. “It’s not fair to let the responsibilities of running an agency—and the country—fall on the shoulders of the hardworking public servants who are showing up while others are out golfing on the taxpayer’s dime. Frustrated Americans are being put on hold while too many federal employees are phoning it in. I’m calling out federal employees who refuse to answer the call of duty to return to work on behalf of taxpayers, veterans, seniors, and our great nation. It’s time to get back to work.”
In her letters to the IGs, Ernst references older investigations into telework at the Patent and Trademark Office — a pre-pandemic telework-friendly agency — that found widespread abuses of the system.
She also cites some viral examples of more recent abuses, like when a manager responsible for helping veterans schedule appointments at the Atlanta VA Medical Center posted a photo on social media of himself working while taking a bubble bath. Meanwhile, the wait times for veterans to get an appointment at the Atlanta medical center are some of the worst in the country, Ernst claims, and “one such veteran temporarily lost his eyesight while waiting six months for an appointment with an eye doctor at the Atlanta VA,” she wrote in her letters.
“It appears hybrid and remote working is now standard practice for the federal workforce,” she wrote. “So, it is imperative for taxpayers and those being served by federal programs that costs and outcomes are not negatively impacted by the arrangement. The examples of telework abuses cited in this letter, after all, were caught thanks to dedicated civil servants who spoke up rather than effective management by the agency or OPM.”
Ernst goes on to request the IGs provide her with answers to a dozen detailed questions on their agency’s specific telework operations.
Earlier this month, House Republican lawmakers chided federal leaders for failing to turn over materials related to telework and remote work policies that the House Oversight and Accountability Committee requested as part of a separate investigation into federal agency telework policies and their effect on agency performance.
Just prior to that, President Biden called for his Cabinet to “aggressively execute” plans for federal employees to carry out more in-office work this fall.