February 28, 2024

Opinion: Taking attendance at the White House

By Joni Ernst

Imagine one of your coworkers skips out — for days — and nobody, not even the boss, notices.

Sounds pretty farfetched, since the workplaces I’ve visited across Iowa are pretty short-staffed these days. Just one missing team member would be immediately obvious to everyone. That is, unless the absent employee is the head of a government agency, like the Department of Defense, and the boss happens to be the President of the United States.

With wars in Europe and the Middle East, and the Pacific teetering on the brink, America’s defense chief went AWOL for four days this past month. Meanwhile, the Commander-in-Chief and de facto head of the Pentagon were also both out of the office, on tropical islands far away from Washington.

Without informing the White House or his own senior staff, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin went under general anesthesia on Dec. 22 for a medical procedure. A little over a week later he was rushed by ambulance back to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he would be hospitalized for the next two weeks. Austin’s chief of staff also happened to be out on sick leave at the time the Secretary was admitted to the hospital.

Biden wasn’t even aware his Secretary of Defense was away from the job until he was informed days later during his weeklong Caribbean vacation, where he was relaxing at a private beachfront villa owned by big dollar Democratic donors.

Also without the president’s knowledge, the Defense Secretary transferred some of his responsibilities to his deputy, who coincidentally was vacationing in the Caribbean on a different island, Puerto Rico. Austin’s “deputy ended up running the Pentagon from the beach.”

Folks, the defense of our nation isn’t a part-time job. While the president and his advisors are busy packing for sandy island beaches, thousands of men and women in uniform are being deployed to the shifting sands of the Middle East, where American citizens are being held hostage by terrorists right now. And Iranian-backed militants have launched more than 100 attacks against U.S. troops in the region over the past three months.

“Out of office” messages bounced back by Biden administration officials on leave are not going to repel attacks from America’s enemies. But despite being called back to work by the White House, Washington’s bureaucracies remain largely abandoned.

Even Biden’s administrator of the General Services Administration, who is supposed to manage over 8,300 government buildings, spent most of the year following the agency’s “full re-entry” to the office not in Washington, but in Missouri.

This is how the Biden bureaucrats do business: when, where, how, and if they want to.

Secretary of Transportation Peter Buttigieg noted, “When you take a job like mine, you understand and accept that you’re going to have to be available 24/7, depending on what’s going on, and you’re going to have to engage.” But then he went offline for four weeks of paid paternity leave in the midst of a nationwide supply chain crisis, even declining to take a call from Senator Chuck Grassley about a transportation issue in Iowa.

President Biden himself is setting this example for how Washington “works from home.”

The president was out of the Oval Office last year more than any other modern American president, spending nearly 40 percent of his time away from the nation’s capital. Biden’s getaways include frequent trips to the beach, the estates of billionaires, and other posh destinations. Even when not vacationing, the president limits his participation in public events to weekdays, between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM.

While Biden and his bureaucrats are living like every week is beach week, the hardworking Americans paying their salaries don’t have the same luxury of setting their own office hours. That’s why I am giving my January 2024 Squeal Award to the absentee administration officials. Apparently only they know who they are, since no one is taking attendance.

Folks, Biden and his bureaucrats can reschedule their beach getaways until January 2025 when they all will be out of office, permanently. In the meantime, I’m calling on the White House Office of Management and Budget to start auditing and posting the schedules of the heads of every agency and department so taxpayers know who is showing up to work and who isn’t.

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