WATCH: Biden’s health secretary refuses to answer questions on federal employee telecommute benefits

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday refused several times to answer questions about what percentage of his workforce is still teleworking, more than three years after the COVID pandemic and at a time when many offices have returned to work. At a budget hearing at the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., asked Becerra repeatedly how many HHS employees are still working from home, but got nowhere. “This is a picture taken at 10:40 am last Monday at HHS headquarters. It’s like empty,” Cassidy said as he showed a picture of an empty lot. Cassidy later clarified it’s the parking lot for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services headquarters. “Can you give a breakdown of how many full-time employees are at their desk in one of these buildings every day?” Cassidy asked. IRS STAFF WOULD BE BANNED FROM TELEWORK UNDER GOP BILL UNTIL TAX RETURN BACKLOG IS ELIMINATED “Senator, when you take a look at the workforce at HHS, and we’re close to 90,000 throughout the country, and working in various parts of the country, some here at headquarters… by the way, headquarters…” “I’ve got limited time,” Cassidy interrupted. “So tell me, of what percent of the employees are at their desk… on any given day?” “Our folks are working full time,” Becerra said. “No, but how many are at their desk as opposed to being at home, or someplace else, a coffee shop or whatever?” Cassidy tried again. “What we make sure we care about is that they’re performing and they’re delivering…” Becerra dodged. FEDERAL TELEWORK ISN’T GOING AWAY WHEN COVID ENDS: ‘FACE TIME IS NOT A PROXY FOR PERFORMANCE’ “That’s not really answering my question, because I know the best practices now in many industries is to bring people back in. So is it 5%, is it 10%, is it 1%? How many folks are actually sitting at their desk in a government building when they are working full time every day?” Cassidy tried for the last time. “And we have folks who, as they’re working full time…” Becerra started before being interrupted. “Clearly, sir, you don’t want to answer that question, and I don’t mean to be rude, but you don’t, and that kind of begs that the answer may not be flattering,” Cassidy said. 205 DEMOCRATS VOTE AGAINST BILL FORCING FEDERAL WORKERS TO RETURN TO THE OFFICE AS COVID WINDS DOWN Cassidy also pressed Becerra on whether HHS has virtual private network (VPN) data from employees’ computers that show they are working from home, but also got no answer from Becerra. “Do you have that VPN data? Because initially when the pandemic started, we saw VPN data that showed a double-digit number of employees were not turning on their VPN every day, and so it suggests they were not accessing emails, for example?” “I can try to get back to you on that,” Becerra said.
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