Exclusive—Rep. Bob Good: The Untold Story of No-Show Federal Employees

A family walks past politicians' cars as negotiations on a COVID-19 economic bailout continue on Capitol Hill March 24, 2020, in Washington, DC. - US lawmakers closed in on a deal Tuesday to buttress the teetering economy by giving nearly $2 trillion to hospitals, businesses and ordinary Americans buckling under …
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Nearly two years after the COVID shutdowns began in 2020, federal employees are still “working” remotely while an overwhelming majority of the American people have resumed in-person work, school, church, and essential activities like doctor’s visits.

Some might consider this workplace change to be the “new normal” for many career paths, but for federal employees, we must ask: Is telework actually working for the American people they serve?

Government lockdowns and shutdowns paused many of our workplaces, but it did not pause the needs of so many who require assistance from federal agencies. Millions of Americans still need access to veteran health care services, tax return assistance and refunds, and social security benefits, just to name a few. Instead of receiving the level of service that should be expected from the agencies funded by their tax dollars, they are regularly met with phones that ring with no answer and locked federal office doors.

I was able to meet recently with dozens of folks from across Virginia’s 5th District, all with a story to tell of unanswered phone calls, emails, and letters to their federal agencies. Many of my constituents have issues that are time sensitive and could have long term negative impacts on their quality of life if left unresolved. Unless you or a family member are directly affected, you may not have heard these kinds of stories, but every taxpayer should be aware of how the federal government is too often failing the people of this country.

For example, in 2021 the IRS answered only 11 percent of the roughly 282 million phone calls the agency received, and the Washington Post reported that there are as many as 24 million unprocessed tax returns from last year. As we approach the 2022 tax season, many of my constituents are being notified of interest charges on their taxes from last year despite their returns being filed on time. Unfortunately, locked buildings and a lack of staff required to be on site, have resulted in letters and filings being left unopened, unacknowledged, and unprocessed. American taxpayers may eventually see these fines waived, but they should not be threatened with punishment when it is the IRS that failed to perform its duty.

Federal agencies should consist of employees who are ready, willing, and able to serve on the front lines to provide the benefits and services that were promised to the American people. These employees signed up for an in-person job, and the agencies should expect them to fulfill it. To fail at meeting the needs of Americans due to unnecessary COVID restrictions keeping employees at home when the private sector is back to work is simply unacceptable.

That is why Congress must demand an immediate return-to-work for all federal employees. Last July, I proposed an amendment to eliminate funding for COVID-era federal agency telework policies. More recently, I co-sponsored the “Return to Work Act” led by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), which would revert all current telework policies to pre-COVID status. Earlier this month, I joined my House colleague from Virginia, Rep. Ben Cline (R-VA), to write a letter to President Biden and express our concerns regarding agency staffing and the unacceptable lag time in providing assistance to our constituents.

My congressional offices in Washington and Campbell County have remained open and staffed in person. I have also made it a priority to have my team travel regularly throughout the 5th District to conduct mobile office hours, so constituents who need in-person assistance can meet with us in their own community. We conducted more than 150 of these mobile office meetings in 2021, and we are continuing to do so in 2022. We have opened more than 2,350 case files for constituents to help them cut through the bureaucratic red tape, and we have helped recover more than $4.8 million that was owed to Virginians by their federal government. We will keep working for Virginians, but there is only so much we can do without willing partners at the federal agencies.

A few weeks ago, Twitter posts circulated picturing stacks upon stacks of newspapers inside a Capitol Hill Democrat office. It is apparent that no employees have been in the office for months to even bother disposing of the newspapers properly. The Biden administration and Democrat majorities in Congress own this ongoing failure to put agencies back to in-person work. Taxpayer-funded staff are not showing up for work; and as the Tweets indicated, this is not a story making the news, but it should be!

Bob Good serves in the U.S. House of Representatives for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. Congressman Good is a Member of the House Budget Committee.

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