Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) | Make 'Em Squeal
Thousands of calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) 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.
Seniors calling the Social Security Administration 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 called into a meeting from a bubble bath—and even posted a selfie 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 the 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—tell the real 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 federal agencies is not being used, according to a review conducted by the Government Accountability Office.
The vacant offices beg the question: Where are all the federal employees?
Only one in three is fully back in the office, according to a recent Office of Personnel Management (OPM) survey, while less than one in five “never” report to a physical office. The work locations of 281,656 employees were redacted from data provided in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by the nonprofit group Open the Books.
In his 2022 State of the Union Address, President Biden pledged that “the vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person.” A year and a half later, the Nation’s Capital remains a ghost townand government employee unions are fighting efforts to bring bureaucrats back.
I am all for moving federal agencies out of Washington—that’s why I have introduced the Strategic Withdrawal of Agencies for Meaningful Placement, or SWAMP, Act. The intent of my bill is to make those creating the rules more accountable to the folks who have to live under them. Letting federal employees work when, where, and even if they want to, however, 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, according to an internal review of employee logins to the agency’s email and file systems.
Folks, remote work should not be confused with flipping through channels with a TV remote.
Growing up on a farm, I know what working from home really means.
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 taxpayers' dime.
That is why I am giving my August 2023 Squeal Award to those federal employees who refuse to answer the call of duty to return to work on behalf of taxpayers, veterans, seniors, and our great nation.
I am also requesting the Inspector General of every department and agency determine (1) the impact of telework on the delivery and response times of services, and (2) 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.
Squeal Award: Federal Employees Who Refuse to Return to In-Person Work