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Wicker: Federal Return to Work Order Rings Hollow

Note: The following is the weekly Wicker Report of Mississippi U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and is provided by the Senator’s office.

By Sen Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

Congress Will Oversee Administration’s Progress

Headlines recently proclaimed that President Biden had called on his Cabinet to “aggressively execute” plans to return more federal workers to the office. But for anyone paying attention, including the Americans struggling to access basic federal services, this proclamation is hardly worth celebrating. The Biden administration admits that prolonged remote work has created problems. But the president has slow-walked efforts to resume in-person work, and his past inaction causes his current orders to ring hollow.

President’s Policies Waste Time and Money

It seems that members of the president’s administration are gaining newfound understanding of a long-running trend. Remote government work policies have increased wasteful spending and decreased federal productivity.

A recent report by the independent Government Accountability Office found that none of the 24 federal agencies surveyed occupied more than 50 percent of their headquarters’ office space in Washington, D.C. – even as the government paid to keep them open. This wastes taxpayer funds. Every year, it costs about $2 billion to maintain government-owned office buildings and approximately $5 billion to lease work space. The government has kept paying these bills even as employees work at home.

Telework has ground the gears of federal bureaucracy to a crawl, forcing Mississippians to endure protracted wait times for passports, Social Security disability benefits, and loan requests.

Passport demand reached record highs this summer, and the government was not prepared. Americans applying for Social Security disability benefits are now waiting more than seven months just to hear a reply – 83 percent longer than they waited in 2019. Returning employees to the office is the first step toward resolving these issues. Mr. Biden’s team ought to take a page out of Mississippi’s playbook to get their employees back to work.

Mississippi Team Delivers for Americans

A team of federal workers in south Mississippi is showing what could have been if the president had acted earlier. An office on the campus of Stennis Space Center in Hancock County manufactures fully 50 percent of the nation’s passport books – the blank editions that the State Department personalizes when Americans request a passport.

Their production line was shuttered for a few months because of COVID-19, but the team rebounded quickly. By 2022, they were back to normal. This year, they are ahead of schedule. They already have assembled around one million more passport books than they expected for this point in the year, giving us a taste for what is possible with in-person work.

Congress Oversees Return-to-Work Efforts

My staff and I stand ready to help Mississippians access federal resources. Our job is to be responsive to constituents, and we should expect the same from the bureaucracy. We assist with Social Security claims, IRS issues, VA benefits, Medicare payments, and more, and we understand the need for prompt action from federal agencies.

The White House was correct when it said returning to the office would, “deliver better results for the American people.” But that was odd to hear, since many of us have been making this point repeatedly. I have introduced legislation that would force federal workers to return to the office, and I have continued pursuing information about the administration’s policies. Recently, I joined Senator Chuck Grassley in an inquiry to evaluate the administration’s use of its office space. We will be aggressively monitoring the pace of implementation following the president’s new order.

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