U.S. Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (both R-Idaho) joined Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and 40 additional colleagues in sending a letter to the heads of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to request immediate action to transition federal workers back to in-person operations.
In the letter, the senators cite the “widespread lack of responsiveness and accessibility across the federal government on account of current agency work plans,” which have kept workers out of the office and have contributed to huge delays for government services.
“Businesses have now reopened, children and teachers have returned to in-person learning, and health care and public safety workers continue to show up for work. Yet we continue to hear from constituents in our states about a lack of responsiveness from federal agencies,” the senators wrote.
The letter follows months of delays from the Biden Administration on implementing plans for agencies to return their workforce to the office and to address the mounting backlog of cases that arose while federal employees were working from home.
The senators cite several examples of the impact this extended absence has had on government services:
Department of Veterans Affairs — As of August 30, 2021, there are almost 182,000 backlogged claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs because of a pause of in-person Compensation and Pension examinations last year.
Internal Revenue Service — As of October 2, 2021, the IRS had 6.8 million unprocessed individual 2020 tax year returns.
U.S. State Department — The wait time to get a new passport is now 12 to 18 weeks.
Social Security Administration — Social Security offices throughout the country have been closed except for those beneficiaries who make an appointment and are deemed to be in “dire need.” Social Security recipients have been forced to use unreliable mail services to send personal identifying information or paperwork to local field offices as most offices will not accept these documents in person.
On June 10, 2021, GSA, OMB and OPM issued a memo regarding the return of federal employees and contractors to physical workplaces. The deadline to submit their plans was July 19, 2021. However, given President Biden’s new vaccine mandate and the spread of the Delta variant, many agencies have had to produce new plans, which are currently still unavailable to the general public and to Congress despite ongoing requests.
As the Senators write, only one agency out of 20 that were recently contacted was able to provide a plan for its employees.
“We understand the unique challenges that COVID-19 has presented, but Americans continue to face unprecedented delays in accessing their federal government. This is unacceptable,” the senators wrote.
The Senators also expressed their view that the federal government should consider the costs to taxpayers of paying for office space that is not used, saying it is a “drain on taxpayers who are ultimately paying the price for empty offices.”
“It is now time to bring back our federal workers and deliver the service that the American people have been promised and expect of their government,” the senators concluded.