Amid growing concerns about the substantial learning losses pupils have had since the pandemic-caused school closures, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst is voicing concerns about the underutilization of the Department of Education’s office space in Washington, D.C. Ernst is especially alerted to the DOE’s astonishingly low 17% office occupancy rate. This is in response to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showing a significant decline in 9-year-old kids’ average reading and math performance over the previous two years.
Ernst questioned the Department of Education’s role in keeping kids out of school, saying it was causing historically high learning losses, in a statement to the Washington Examiner. She noted the irony that many DOE administrators are still not physically present at work, even though regular classes have resumed for students. She declared, “It’s time for Biden’s bureaucrats to return to class, or lose their pricey, unoccupied office space.”
Ernst has issued a call to action in response to new information obtained by the Government Accountability Office, which shows that not a single government agency is now using even half of its allotted office space. Ernst questioned why employees had left after COVID and offered the possibility of reducing the amount of space that is not being used by the federal government in order to save money for taxpayers.
Ernst requested comprehensive data earlier this year regarding the effects of remote work on service delivery, the expense of letting go of vacant office space, and the modification of location-based pay for federal employees who work remotely. The General Services Administration announced plans to cut 3.5 million square feet of government building space in response to her questions, potentially saving the taxpayers more than $1 billion.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Social Security Administration had the lowest occupancy rates at just 7%, according to the GAO’s estimates, which were based on three-month average space utilization statistics from the first quarter of 2023. Ernst’s emphasis on this topic is indicative of a larger worry regarding the effectiveness and affordability of government activities in the wake of the pandemic.