By Kelly Laco, Executive Editor Of Politics For Dailymail.Com
Updated: 23:13 03 Sep 2023
- Biden’s Chief of Staff Jeff Zients issued a directive ordering all federal employees to return to the office this fall after years of remote work
- Congress says Biden has refused to provide an accurate number of total teleworking staff
- Federal employees are working from bathtubs, enjoying shooting pool and leaving early for happy hour at the same time the backlog of passports continues
Republicans say billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted based on unused federal office space and employees taking advantage of the White House‘s liberal work from home policies.
Damning reports reveal government employees have been in meetings while taking bubble baths, still got paid while on the golf course and attended happy hours while on the clock.
More than 75 percent of the available office space at 17 different federal agencies is still empty, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Now the GOP have a message for the White House: Get employees back to work or sell the offices to pay off the spiraling national debt.
The Biden administration last month told federal employees to come back to the office, and local officials in Washington have said the empty buildings are hurting the economy.
Agencies spend about $2 billion a year to operate and maintain federal office buildings and over $5 billion annually in leases.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told DailyMail.com that Biden must hold a ‘clearance sale on unused office space’ – which could help pay off the $32.9 trillion in U.S. national debt.
Federal employees have capitalized on Biden’s telework policies to work from bathtubs, shoot pool and sign off early for happy hour at the same time the backlog of passports continues and veterans have to wait months for appointments with their doctors.
A Department of Veterans Affairs employee based in Atlanta posted a series of Instagram stories from March from the bathtub with the caption: ‘My office for the next hour.’
The post shows his government-issued computer propped up on a stand opened on a staff meeting with his bare legs soaking in the tub filled with bubbles.
Ernst said the ‘impact of telework’ on meeting an agency’s mission must be ‘evaluated.’
‘Many civil servants, like meat inspectors or airport security screeners, do not have the luxury of working from home, much less a bubble bath.’
The Iowa senator wrote to a handful of agency inspector generals earlier this week to express concerns about their misuse of taxpayer funds.
She says that downsizing the amount of space at a number of several agencies would help cut down on waste. In particular, reducing office space at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) headquarters alone would save $30 million taxpayer dollars per year.
The senator also called out one USPTO patent examiner who ‘never showed up to work’ and was paid ‘$25,000 for 730 hours not worked’ while he was golfing and engaging in other activities.
Biden’s Chief of Staff Jeff Zients issued a directive ordering all federal employees to return to the office this fall after years of remote work.
‘We are returning to in-person work because it is critical to the well-being of our teams and will enable us to deliver better results for the American people,’ Zients said in a letter to all Cabinet heads, adding that it is a ‘priority of the president.’
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., and Reps. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., wrote to the Biden administration this week demanding to know if telework policies led to decreased productivity.
They have also requested information on precisely how many federal employees continue to work from home three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They say they’ve been stonewalled by the administration so far.
‘One of two options is currently playing out: either federal agencies are withholding information from Congress or federal agencies are not tracking telework and remote work policies as required by the law. Both possibilities are deeply concerning,’ say Comer, Sessions and Boebert.
They threatened ‘compulsory measures’ if the administration does not provide the requested information. That could come in the form of official subpoenas.
Comer told DailyMail.com that it’s ‘past time’ for the Biden administration to get federal workers back into the office.
‘It’s unacceptable that the Biden Administration has continued pandemic-era telework policies when the pandemic has been over for some time,’ he continued.
They are seeking occupancy rates on their Washington, D.C., offices – and in a hint at maintaining resources, ask if they have made plans to adjust their ‘real estate footprint’ based on current plans.
Comer cited reports that just a third of federal employees are back in the office since the start of the pandemic.
In February, the House passed the SHOWUP Act, which seeks to restore pre-pandemic telework levels.
In the Senate, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced a companion bill to the SHOWUP Act.
She said: ‘It’s illogical that VA employees are able to work from a bubble bath, while organizations across the country have safely re-opened.’
The effort to force out more information about the arrangements is not new. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., sent out similar letters in 2021.
Johnson told DailyMail.com that with ‘few exceptions,’ 34 federal agencies ‘ignored’ his requests to provide the number of employees teleworking.
‘The Biden Administration’s grossly inadequate responses to even the most basic, legitimate oversight questions highlights this administration’s lack of transparency and apparent disdain for Congressional oversight,’ he continued.
The Biden administration officially ended the COVID-19 emergency in May.
Republicans grilled Office Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja at a March hearing on federal telework policies – at a time when agencies are facing retirements and retention issues.
‘While COVID is no longer driving our workforce decisions, employers have updated tools and knowledge about managing employees in hybrid work environments and the benefits to their customers,’ she said.
Ahuja said the policies have had a ‘positive impact workplace flexibilities have on areas such as productivity, engagement and diversifying the talent pool.’
Without explicitly saying workers are slacking off, the letter asks agency heads to ‘describe the management protocols your agency has implemented to ensure workers are either adhering to the provisions of a telework agreement or are otherwise fulfilling their official duties.’