Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst admonished federal agencies for their work-from-home policies Tuesday, displaying a list of federal agencies whose employees’ physical absences are leaving expensive office buildings empty.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Ernst rolled open a scroll revealing a “naughty list” of federal agencies with the lowest employee occupancy rates.
“Topping the list,” Ernst announced, are the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Social Security Administration which are “using just 7 percent of their office space.”
“Not a single agency has an occupancy rate of even 50 percent,” Ernst said. “If we’re not going to go actually work within these agencies, then maybe we need to get rid of this space, because it does cost a lot.”
Ernst’s percentages represent the three-month average utilization of federal agency offices based on a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In August, the Iowa lawmaker demanded each federal agency reexamine remote work protocols that persist three years after the first wave of coronavirus lockdowns. Ernst awarded her monthly “Squeal Award” to federal abuse of work-from-home policy.
“Remote work provides federal agencies with an opportunity to reduce costs for taxpayers and increase the ability to recruit and retain talent for public service,” Ernst wrote to agency inspector generals. “However, such arrangements only work for taxpayers when telework does not (1) harm the agencies’ ability to achieve their mission, (2) adversely impact the timely delivery of quality services, or (3) impede or impair the management of the federal workforce and taxpayer money.”
The worst offenders after the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Social Security Administration, according to the recent GAO report shared with The Federalist, include the Small Business Administration, with a 9 percent office utilization rate, and the Department of Agriculture and General Services Administration, each with an office occupancy rate of 11 percent. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), where one employee even called into a meeting from a bubble bath, was reported to have a 14 percent average office occupancy rate.
The VA employee even bragged about his bubble bath conference call on social media, posting a photo with the caption “My office for the next h[ou]r.”
Ernst is now calling on federal agencies to work on eliminating vacant office space.
“It’s time for Biden’s bureaucrats to get back to work, or forfeit their expensive, unused office space,” Ernst told The Federalist in an exclusive statement. “If my oversight hasn’t lit a fire under them to return to the office yet, I suppose it’s because they are extinguishing it with their bubble baths on the taxpayer’s dime. Every day this is put off, more dollars go down the drain to fuel the D.C. swamp.”
Other lawmakers have previously called for federal agency headquarters to be removed from Washington and dispersed among the states. In 2019, GOP Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced legislation to do just that titled the “Helping Infrastructure Restore the Economy (HIRE) Act.”