Hinson questions why federal agencies don’t have more staff working in-person

CLEAR LAKE — Iowa Congresswoman Ashley Hinson is joining a group of House Republicans who’re questioning why some key federal agencies do not have all employees working in-person.

The group says federal employees had early access to Covid vaccines and there’s been time to reconfigure work spaces to accommodate social distancing.  “All of our government agencies need to be operating at full capacity,” Hinson says, “and they’re not.”

Hinson has signed onto a letter asking President Biden for a list of which federal agencies are fully staffed and in person — and which agencies have more than half the staff working remotely. Hinson points to staffing at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis which has the documents veterans need to secure their benefits and the medals they’ve earned.  “It’s currently operating at about only 25% of its normal capacity,” according to Hinson, “and since the majority of the records are in the physical, in-person format, the limited in-person staff has been unable to manage the volume of incoming requests and, as a result of that, thousands upon thousands of records requests are unanswered and that leaves veterans, of course, without the critical assistance they’ve earned to support themselves and their families.”

Hinson says the number one complaint from her constituents, though, is about the Internal Revenue Service and getting IRS staff on the phone to answer questions. “They do need to be more efficient with the resources that we have given them and, much like many of these other agencies, they are not operating at full capacity right now,” Hinson says.

The IRS reports it received 119 million calls last year — a 70 percent increase from a typical tax filing season. The total IRS budget, when adjusted for inflation, is 20 percent lower than it was 12 years ago and staffing has fallen to levels the agency had in the 1970s.   “I’m happy to listen to what needs there may be. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I obviously want to make sure that our constituent services are top notch,” Hinson says. “but at the same time I don’t want to super charge the IRS when they need to be efficient with the resources that they have.”

This past September, ten other House Republicans called for a congressional investigation of in-person staffing levels at federal agencies during the pandemic.