WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The days federal government employees can work remotely may be numbered.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the White House are pressuring federal workers to return to the office.
“We’re coming after you,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
Ernst says it’s time for a telework crackdown within the federal government.
“I know they’re still on the payroll,” Ernst said. “Is COVID over? Are we able to come to work safely?”
According to Ernst, taxpayer money is being wasted on empty offices.
A Government Accountability Office report released in July found that it costs $7 billion to lease and manage agency headquarters — but most agencies are only using a fraction of their buildings. Of the 24 federal agencies reviewed in the report, 17 used 25% or less of their buildings’ capacities during a three-week period in 2023.
“We’ve got to figure this out,” Ernst said.
Ernst is demanding answers from each agency. She also wants to stop federal workers from receiving Washington, D.C., wages if they are living in lower-cost areas.
“It is fraud,” Ernst said.
Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine says fraud may be an overstatement.
“If you’re serving your fellow Americans, then you deserve the paycheck that you get,” Kaine said. “But I do think getting more people back to the office would be good for morale, good for productivity and good for local communities.”
In the end, Kaine says, each agency should decide who must return to work.
“The issue is, you can’t make it one-size-fits-all,” he said.
The White House is pushing workers to come back by the fall.
Max Stier is the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that advocates for an efficient government.
Stier says filling buildings cannot be the target.
“The answer is, redo your leases to reshape your real estate footprint to match the need that you actually have,” he said.
Stier also warns going too far could hurt the government’s ability to attract best talent.