May 21, 2024

Opinion: Washington is a ghost town, I’m calling Biden’s bureaucrats back to their old haunts

By Joni Ernst

Despite President Biden begging bureaucrats to return to work, government buildings remain largely abandoned, and Washington, D.C. is a ghost town.

Agency heads have mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Even the White House was left in the dark when the Secretary of Defense vanished for days! And I’m hearing from folks in Iowa who tried calling federal agencies for help but didn’t hear ‘boo!’

A nonprofit serving vulnerable, disabled, elderly, and other Iowans in need contacted my office, frustrated by the growing delays the organization is experiencing in dealing with the Social Security Administration. The executive director told me that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the response time from the local Social Security office was just a few days at most. But now, it takes weeks and even months to get a callback.

Some of the folks the nonprofit serves have gone without benefits as a result of the unreturned phone calls and approvals to provide support to others seeking assistance are also being delayed. The agency’s executive director says the lack of communication, “is having an impact on the clients we serve and our ability to provide quality service,” and that, “they are running us out of business.”

While the Social Security Administration’s headquarters is nearly empty, with just seven percent of its office space being used, these folks serving Iowans in need are showing up. Because the Social Security Administration’s unresponsiveness is threatening the support they provide, I called on the agency’s Inspector General to investigate. That seemed to do the trick!

Almost immediately, the phone finally started ringing, and the Social Security Administration is once again working with this agency to make sure Iowans are being taken care of.

Another Iowan who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service tells me his former colleagues describe working from home as, “like being on vacation. Very little work was assigned and all they had to do was be available by phone.” A current supervisor within the Department let me know that it is even difficult to get in touch with coworkers: “On occasions I have gone to USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C….it resembles a ghost town… Remote work and telework employees are often unreachable and do not respond to simple email questions for hours.”

When I recently questioned the USDA Secretary about these claims, he pushed back, insisting his staff are required to be in the office most of the week.

Yet, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, nearly 90 percent of the office space in USDA’s headquarters is sitting idle and unused. In my view, it’s simple: if USDA staff aren’t showing up for work in Washington, we should put them out to pasture—by relocating the department to Iowa.

With the spring planting season upon us, I know farmers and ranchers would appreciate some helping hands from USDA’s experts in the field. Literally, in the field, tilling the dirt and pulling the weeds. Growing up on a farm, I can tell you that is what we in Iowa call working from home. But in Washington, working from home apparently means having a field day!

That is why I am calling on the USDA’s Inspector General to investigate and track down the location of these ghost employees. Folks, enough is enough. It’s time for Washington to get back to work, and I need your help to make that happen.

The bureaucrats may not be showing up, or interested in answering your call, but I am. So, if you’re trying to get in touch with a government agency and keep getting ghosted, who you gonna call? My office, at 202-224-3254. If you are working in a government building all alone, pick up the phone and call. I want to hear from you and other government whistleblowers.

Together, we can be ghostbusters and make Washington work again by getting the bureaucrats back to their old haunts! Cause I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

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