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Ernst questions USDA’s telework policies, Vilsack defends workers

A U.S. Senator is asking Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to review USDA’s telework policies.

Iowa’s Joni Ernst tells Brownfield an increase in accountability is needed to help ensure USDA employees are serving farmers and ranchers. “This is not Joni Ernst’s opinion,” Ernst said. “This is coming from other government agencies that are charged with tracking our taxpayer dollars.”

Ernst says she’s concerned about a report from the Government Accountability Office that revealed the amount of remote work conducted by USDA staff. “They have an occupancy rate of 11% at their building,” Ernst said.

During a recent Senate Ag Committee hearing, Secretary Vilsack defended the agency’s workers and said productivity has been high. “I can tell you how many home loans, how many farm loans, and how many NRCS contracts have been entered,” Vilsack said. “I can guarantee you that compared to other administrations, this team is working their tail off.”

Secretary Vilsack also said the GAO report was not indicative of the agency’s current remote work numbers in 2024.

At the hearing, Ernst said an anonymous USDA supervisor sent a letter to her office “blowing the whistle” on the agency. Ernst says the employee wrote, “Remote work and telework (USDA) employees are often unreachable and do not respond to simple email questions for hours.”

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