EXCLUSIVE: Rep. Michael Waltz on Tuesday wrote to the offices of Personnel Management (OPB) and Management and Budget (OMB) expressing concern about ongoing closures of federal agency buildings, leading to limited staffing and delays in responses to inquiries.
In the letter, obtained first by Fox News, the Florida Republican says there have been delays in responses to inquiries from congressional offices that are seeking to help resolve disputes between constituents and government agencies.
“Given the gravity and urgency surrounding many of these casework requests, you can understand my confusion and dismay when learning that, despite reopening phases of states and localities, many of these federal agencies’ offices remain closed or very limited staff capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Waltz argues that remote or blended work has shown to be ineffective in many instances, citing examples of agencies such as Veterans Affairs and others, where sensitive documents can only be accessed through servers at offices. He also said that some agencies are not fully adjusted, like some IRS offices where phone lines are not extended to reach employees at home.
“Our caseworkers wait between three and four business days to receive a call back and some of our constituents have called agencies directly only to wait on hold for two hours and be disconnected,” he said.
The letter is part of a continuing debate across the country, both inside government and out, about how and to what extent remote or teleworking should continue as the country ends the second year of the pandemic.
Some organizations are weaving telework into their medium-term plans, while fierce debates are raging about the reopening of schools and other key sectors — particularly as COVID cases drop in some areas and vaccinations become increasingly available across the U.S.
Some areas are facing difficulties with government workers at the local level.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio set May 3 as the target date to begin returning 80,000 government workers to city buildings, but the effort has been complicated by an increase in virus variants and union leaders raising concerns about spread, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Among his questions, Waltz asked why, in states that are fully open — like Florida, federal agency offices in those states are still notably open. He also asks how agencies are working to reduce the backlog and how staffing requirements are or are not being adjusted as more staff gets vaccinated.
“It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began and yet many of these federal agency employees are struggling to maintain functionality, responsiveness and effectiveness in performing their job duties from home,” he wrote. “What are agencies doing to make sure these critical federal employees can get back into the office and properly assist the citizens they agreed to serve?”