Joe Biden is considering letting federal employees work from home permanently or only come into the office on a part-time basis – despite fears it will lead to more delays for Americans trying to access vital government services.
The Biden administration is set to announce in June guidelines that could see more staffers than ever using telework to perform their duties.
‘We anticipate this guidance will leave room for decision-making at departments and agencies, to provide maximum flexibility for defining work requirements to meet mission and workforce needs,’ a senior administration official told The Washington Post.
During the pandemic Americans have been forced to wait up to three months to get new or updated passports and the IRS is trying to catch up with a backlog of delays in sending out tax refunds and stimulus checks.
There are also huge concerns about the level of staff at the National Personnel Records Center that provides veterans with the records they need to get access to benefits and healthcare.
The government has fallen behind private companies when it comes to embracing telework and Republicans say many federal workers who work remotely can’t fully perform their duties.
Federal offices are restricted to a 25 percent capacity, but can bring in more workers if their tasks are deemed as ‘mission-critical’.
Georgia Representative Jody Hice, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, urged in a letter last week that the federal government return to usual operations.
President Joe Biden is considering allowing federal employees to telework permanently despite Americans facing massive wait times to receive a passport and their tax return
‘I write today to urge the Federal workforce to return to the fullest possible degree to its normal places of work,’ the Republican congressman wrote Tuesday to the Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Kathleen McGettigan.
‘It is time to begin transitioning to the workplace,’ he continued, noting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance now sats fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks or socially distance indoors or out.
‘If it is the administration’s intention to prolong remote working arrangements, then it is appropriate to hold a comprehensive policy discussion around related issues,’ Hice urged. ‘Prolonging arrangements taken in an exigent situation is not a permanent solution.’
Hice noted that Americans have been negatively affected by the federal workforce being removed from the office. He said the ‘lack of face-to-face services during the pandemic has had real, negative impacts on veterans, Social Security beneficiaries, and others who need prompt, attentive service from public servants at federal agencies.’
‘This is particularly critical for the most vulnerable of our constituents including seniors and low-income Americans, as well as individuals who may not have internet access or the computer skills necessary to navigate an entirely virtual interaction with a government agency.’
Florida Representative Michael Waltz also said: My offices are open so they can serve our constituents, but my constituents are calling the IRS and they can’t get anyone on the phone in the name of the pandemic.
He has also asked the Biden administration why schools and state agencies are open – but federal offices are not.
Republican Illinois Rep. Mike Bost, when asked about the staffing at the National Personnel Records Center, said: ‘This staff should be pushed to the front of the line [for vaccinations] and sent back to work. What is the hold up?’
Since the onset of the pandemic, the wait time for a new passport or renewal has doubled, leaving many Americans waiting three months to receive it.
According to numbers released by the State Department in April, the processing time for a U.S. passport is 10-12 weeks for a $60 fee. If needed before that point, applicants can pay an additional expedited fee of $60 for a $120 total to get it within 4-6 weeks.
The passport processing was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has since resumed – along with a massive backlog of applications.
Also leaving Americans frustrated is the speed in which the Internal Revenue Service is operating as the pandemic appears to be winding down.
The IRS shut down its offices just like many other agencies due to coronavirus. On top of being understaffed and dealing with telework complications, the agency is experiencing a staffing shortage and lack of workable equipment.
There are thousands of processing positions that are either vacant or filled by employees who are not working for one reason or the other.
Much of the IRS workforce is still teleworking, even though many tasks require office access.
For example, employees must be on-site to process paper returns and many other returns require manually inputting information into the IRS systems.
Issues were further exacerbated as the IRS was tasked over the last year with sending out tens of million in stimulus payments. Now Americans are left with delays in receiving their tax returns and many are still waiting on their COVID-19 stimulus checks months after they were passed.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration office found that more than 8.3 million individual tax returns and transactions had still not been processed at the end of 2020. This is a more than 1,200 percent increase from normal filing seasons.
‘The IRS continues to be faced with significant challenges in hiring staff as well as in managing its workload as the number of employees reporting for work fluctuates from day to day as a result of the ongoing pandemic,’ TIGTA acknowledged in its report.
Taking into account the 2020 and 2021 filing seasons, the IRS said as of April 20 it had 17.1 million unprocessed individual returns in the pipeline.