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 February 1, 2024

Half of government buildings still empty as federal employees continue remote work

Republicans are amplifying their calls on President Biden to bring back federal employees to the office, intensifying scrutiny after a report disclosed that all federal agencies operate at less than 50 percent capacity, resulting in an estimated daily wastage of $2.8 million.

The alarming revelation underscores the pressing need for federal agencies, which annually allocate over $2 billion in taxpayer funds for office maintenance and more than $5 billion in leases, to boost in-person work.

The situation

House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-KY) is taking proactive measures to hold the Biden administration accountable, demanding tangible evidence of return-to-office plans.

Despite the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) instructing agencies in April 2023 to increase in-person work, Comer contends that this directive has not been adhered to.

In a letter addressed to OMB Director Shalanda Young, Comer expresses concern about the public's perception that federal workers are resisting Biden's push for increased in-person work.

He is urging OMB to provide a 'status report' outlining agency plans for enhanced in-office work and any reported resistance from the federal workforce.

The White House responds

Chief of Staff Jeffrey Zients recently directed Cabinet heads to ensure a return to the office for federal employees, emphasizing that they should spend at least 50 percent of their work time in the office.

Zients specifically noted the State Department's expectation that employees be in the office 3-4 times per week, underscoring the significance of face-to-face engagement in diplomacy.

Comer's letter acknowledges Zients' memo, stating that Republicans are aligning with the chief of staff in demanding tangible proof of return-to-office plans and progress.

Additional concerns

"Over and above the effort to increase in-person work, this highlights concerns the federal workforce may believe it can do as it sees fit, regardless of which administration is in charge," Comer and Subcommittee Chairman Pete Sessions stated.

The concerns extend beyond the push for in-person work, raising broader questions about the perceived autonomy of the federal workforce, irrespective of the administration in charge.

This development follows the recent controversy surrounding Biden's Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's undisclosed hospitalization and subsequent questions about the administration's work-from-home policies.

Austin's extended absence prompted inquiries into the frequency of Cabinet heads working remotely, with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, seeking clarification about Austin's work-from-home schedule in a letter addressed to OMB Director Shalanda Young.

Written By:
Dillon Burroughs

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