Couch potatoes: U.S. senators demand probe into ‘abuse’ of telework in Biden admin

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By Harold Hutchison
Daily Caller News Foundation

Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Ted Cruz of Texas on Tuesday called on a government watchdog to investigate the abuse of telework policies at the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Ernst and Cruz informed Transportation Department Inspector General Eric Soskin of allegations from whistleblowers from multiple agencies that federal bureaucrats were failing to meet in-office work requirements, according to a letter provided exclusively to the Daily Caller News Foundation. These allegations included payroll fraud and abuse of telework by DOT employees. Ernst and Cruz called on the inspector general to investigate whether DOT employees were abiding by the department’s work requirements.

“[W]histleblowers from the FAA and FRA have contacted us about fraud, waste, and abuse occurring at the department,” Cruz and Ernst wrote. “Additionally, the head of the independent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has lamented how lax standards elsewhere make it difficult for her to set a meaningful office work policy, and DOT has continued to post numerous ‘remote’ listings for headquarters jobs.”

“We respectfully request you engage in a comprehensive review of ‘the impact of telework and remote work on the [DOT’s] ability to achieve its mission, deliver quality and timely services, and manage taxpayer money and the DOT workforce,’” the senators wrote.

Ernst and Cruz also noted sparse attendance at the headquarters of the Department of Transportation in the letter.

“To date, the cafeteria in the headquarters’ East Tower remains closed for lack of demand for its services,” the senators wrote. “The Department has also reportedly permanently shuttered its Executive Dining Room across from Secretary Buttigieg’s office, a dining area reserved for DOT political appointees and senior Department employees, for lack of business.”

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The Department of Transportation’s inspector general had previously declined Ernst’s request to look into telework abuses in September, the DCNF exclusively reported.

“Our nation’s cars aren’t remote control, and bureaucrats shouldn’t be either,” Ernst told the DCNF. “Pilots and train conductors cannot work from home, and federal employees should not be attempting to keep our transportation on track from the comfort of their couch. Serving the American people is a serious responsibility and showing up to work is an expectation, not an option. I look forward to getting to the bottom of how many employees need a little help getting transported back to the office.”

Ernst introduced the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act in September 2023 to address issues with telecommuting as part of a package of legislation to rein in the “administrative state.” She previously wrote to 24 agencies, including the Department of Transportation, the State Department, the Department of Defense and the Justice Department, in August 2023.

In the August letter sent to the government agencies, Ernst cited a media account of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee who attended a staff meeting while taking a bubble bath. Ernst also cited a case involving an employee with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) who received $25,000 while spending over 730 hours at the golf course or happy hours, according to an August 2015 report by the inspector general’s office of the Commerce Department.

The Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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