July 24, 2024

Opinion: Iowans hard at work as feds phone it in

By Joni Ernst

As many Iowans are working overtime to make ends meet in Biden’s economy, federal employees in Washington are phoning it in.

Thousands of calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from veterans seeking mental health services are going unanswered.

Desperate travelers are waiting hours on the phone or in line, hoping to speak with someone at the State Department about passport delays causing vacation cancelations.

Seniors calling the Social Security Administration are increasingly being greeted with busy messages, waiting longer to speak to a representative, or having their calls go unanswered altogether as the agency shifts towards “remote” work.

A manager of a VA medical center responsible for overseeing the scheduling of veterans’ care appointments actually called into a meeting from a bubble bath — and even posted a selfie on social media with the caption, “my office for the next hour.”

Another VA staffer lamented, “It’s almost as if this employee is making a mockery of all the veterans. I can sit here in my tub and relax, and you just have to wait.”

And folks, that is exactly what is happening!

The VA is still providing misleading wait times to hide the problem, but the heartbreaking stories of veterans continuing to go without urgent, medically necessary care — sometimes for months — tell the real story.

To add insult to injury, taxpayers are also picking up the cost of maintaining mostly empty buildings in Washington.

While President Biden pledged in his 2022 State of the Union Address that “the vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person,” a year and a half later, the nation’s capital remains a ghost town.

Only one out of every three bureaucrats are fully back in the office, according to a recent Office of Personnel Management survey. Some said they “never” report to a physical office.

Growing up on a farm, like many Iowans, I know what working from home really means. It ain’t easy, and it definitely shouldn’t be confused with flipping through channels with a TV remote!

It’s just not fair to let the responsibilities of running a federal agency — and the country — fall on the shoulders of the hardworking public servants who are actually showing up while others are out golfing on the taxpayers’ dime.

That is why I asked the Inspector General of every single federal department and agency to determine the impact of telework on the delivery and response times of services. I’m also asking how much taxpayer money could be saved by consolidating unused office space and adjusting government salaries for those who have relocated.

Folks, I am all for moving federal agencies out of Washington — that’s exactly what my bill, the SWAMP Act, would do. The intent is to make those creating the rules more accountable to the hardworking Iowans and Americans who have to live under them.

But letting federal employees work when, where, and even if they want to, is having the exact opposite effect.

I won’t sit idly by as hardworking Iowans are denied the very services they pay for. Most of America is back to work, and it is past time for burrowed bureaucrats in Washington to answer the call of duty on behalf of taxpayers, veterans, seniors, and our great nation.

Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.