WASHINGTON — The US Senate has approved a proposal offered by Iowa Senator Joni Ernst that would require several federal agencies to tell congress how many employees are working remotely.
The reports would be required for the entire Department of Veterans Affairs. “A manager at the Atlanta VA responsible for overseeing the scheduling of veterans’ appointments actually called into a meeting from a bubble bath,” Ernst said.
The employee posted a picture of himself on Instagram in March of last year, with a caption that read: “my office for the next hour.” An Atlanta TV station and the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper report a whistleblower says calls from veterans seeking mental health counseling at the Atlanta VA were not being answered last year. “Other veterans who made VA appointments say their therapists didn’t even show up,” Ernst says.
The Senate unanimously attached Ernst’s amendment to a budget bill last week. “While this bill provides nearly $320 billion for the VA, what good is it to give the agency all of this money if the VA isn’t even answering the phone or showing up for appointments with our veterans?” Ernst asked during remarks on the Senate floor.
The report about federal employees’ remote work that Ernst proposes would cover other agencies, too, including the DOT, USDA, FDA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as Defense Department agencies involved in military construction. “Frustrated Americans are sick and tired of being put on hold while many federal employees are phoning it in,” Ernst says, “working from home.”
In August, President Biden’s chief of staff sent agency administrators a memo, saying they should aggressively get employees back to work in federal offices this fall. An analysis early this year found a majority of the office space in federal buildings was unoccupied.