WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined 41 of his colleagues, led by Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), in a letter to the heads of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to request immediate action to transition federal workers back to in-person operations. The letter follows months of delays from the Biden Administration on implementing plans for agencies to return their workforce to the office and to address the mounting backlog of cases that arose while workers were working from home. The text of the letter can be found here.
“The pandemic has affected all Americans who participate in the workforce. Every working individual was forced to adapt quickly during the onset of the pandemic to do their part to reduce the spread of the virus and protect capacity in our health care systems. Fortunately, with the widespread availability of vaccines, testing, and other safety measures, new COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations are all now steadily declining,” the senators wrote. “Businesses have now reopened, children and teachers have returned to in-person learning, and health care and public safety workers continue to show up for work. Yet we continue to hear from constituents in our states about a lack of responsiveness from federal agencies.”
The senators continued, “We understand the unique challenges that COVID-19 has presented, but Americans continue to face unprecedented delays in accessing their federal government. This is unacceptable, particularly since agency heads have had the ability to address productivity since June 2021, when the Biden Administration lifted its 25 percent cap on the number of federal employees allowed to report to worksites.”
“We appreciate the work of America’s federal workforce and maintain that the health and safety of those employees and their families are a priority. However, with the resources available to each agency and every federal employee, it is now time to bring back our federal workers and deliver the service that the American people have been promised and expect of their government,” the senators concluded.
In the letter, the senators cite several examples of the impact the extended absence has had on government services:
- Department of Veterans Affairs – As of August 30, 2021, there were almost 182,000 claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs that were backlogged because of a pause of in-person Compensation and Pension examinations last year.
- Internal Revenue Service – As of October 2, 2021, the IRS had 6.8 million unprocessed individual 2020 tax year returns.
- State Department – The wait time to get a new passport is now 12 to 18 weeks.
- Social Security Administration – Social Security offices throughout the country have been closed except for those beneficiaries who make an appointment and are deemed to be in “dire need.” Social Security recipients have been forced to use unreliable mail services to send personal identifying information or paperwork to local field offices as most offices will not accept these documents in person.
On June 10, 2021, GSA, OMB, and OPM issued a memo regarding the return of federal employees and contractors to physical workplaces. The deadline to submit their plans was July 19, 2021. However, given President Biden’s new vaccine mandate and the spread of the Delta variant, many agencies have had to produce new plans, which are currently still unavailable to the general public and to Congress despite ongoing requests.