The role of the government is to serve its citizens. While the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered the way we conduct business in every sector of our economy, the already inefficient federal government has failed to adequately respond. Like many Americans, federal agency employees shifted to work from home in March of 2020. Unlike many Americans, however, federal workers are still not allowed to return to the office, though agency inquiries are piling up and Americans are struggling to receive even basic services from the federal government.
At this point, under President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal workers, all those who work for a federal agency should have received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, there is still no plan in place for federal workers to return to the office. Even with clear guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on social distancing and safe workplace measures, federal agency employees are still working from home, and they are not serving Wyoming people at the capacity they should.
Wyoming citizens are, rightfully, frustrated. Veterans around Wyoming are not able to get reimbursed for medical expenses. Veterans’ family members are waiting months to receive documents from the National Personnel Records offices. Wyoming taxpayers are still waiting on stimulus checks and tax returns. Social Security recipients are waiting for assistance with their benefits. Visa processing has slowed to a snail’s pace. Those that try to seek assistance are faced with closed offices, unhelpful web forms, and long hold times on the phone. They don’t know where else to turn, so they turn to their Senators and Representatives for help.
An important part of my job is to aid my constituents as they work with federal agencies. My staff and I work closely with federal agencies and have spent years building relationships with congressional liaisons to ensure that Wyoming constituents receive the services they need from the federal government. But at this point, there are so many open cases that those contacts in the federal agencies aren’t able to assist in a timely manner. Due to the dramatic increase in casework requests, my staff has seen response times increase from the pre-pandemic norm of a few weeks to upwards of 120 days now. When a veteran needs assistance or a small business needs a visa for an employee, this is much too long to wait.
In May of 2021, The New York Times published an article highlighting that over 1,200 Social Security Administration offices were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This prevented lower-income individuals from seeking help to apply for benefits. In an already difficult situation, the closure of federal offices made my constituents lives even more difficult.
In light of these frustrations, I introduced the Having Employees Return to Duty (HERD) Act of 2021. Excepting the Department of Defense, this bill would require all federal employees to return to their duty station and the hours they were working prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While allowing agencies to comply with CDC social distancing recommendations, this bill would make sure that people in Wyoming, and across the country, receive critical services from the federal government that they deserve in a timely and efficient manner.
This is not the fault of any single federal worker, many of whom have dedicated their lives to serving the American people. They’ve been told by their superiors that they must stay at home and use their own resources to do the work of the federal government. This is unacceptable. It’s long past time to get the federal government back to work.