As the House of Representatives investigates the Justice Department for alleged politicization, the agency’s internal watchdog has expanded its telework policy.
The Office of Inspector General is just one division of the Department of Justice. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz oversees more than 500 special agents, auditors, inspectors, attorneys, and support staff nationally, according the agency website.
In an undated, nine-page memo, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General announced that employees will be able to work from home two days per pay period. For a two-week pay period, that could mean an employee is allowed to report to the office only once in one week.
The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project obtained the memo through a request under the Freedom of Information Act. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s news outlet.)
“Eligible employees may telework, with supervisory approval, for a maximum of 8 days per PP [pay period], and must report to the Official Duty Station for a minimum of 2 days per PP,” the memo from the Office of Inspector General says. “To reiterate, each division will provide guidance to employees about satisfying this requirement after consultation with OGC [Office of General Counsel] and M&P to ensure compliance with OPM [Office of Personnel Management] regulations (e.g., number of hours per day; hours of the day).”
The abbreviation M&P likely stands for “manpower and personnel.”
In federal agencies, the mission of the internal Office of Inspector General is to investigate potential wrongdoing, conduct interviews of employees, obtain documents, and do other investigative work.
The work-from-home policy comes as criticism mounts about the Justice Department over several cases, such as an FBI office in Virginia investigating traditional Catholics; the FBI’s targeting of parents who speak out at school board meetings; and prosecutors pursuing pro-life activists but not pro-abortion vandalism.
Particularly at a time such as this, allowing employees of the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General to work from home certainly doesn’t advance the goal of holding its parent agency accountable, said Mike Howell, director of Heritage’s Oversight Project.
“I can’t think of a worse time for the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General to be working from home than over the last few years,” Howell told The Daily Signal.
“We’re living through an unfortunately corrupt period in American history, and much of that action is at Merrick Garland’s DOJ,” Howell said. “In all honesty, if these investigators must work from a home, then it should be Merrick Garland’s home. That’s who they should be investigating.”
The newly announced policy isn’t out of sync with other federal agencies’ post-pandemic policies, under which federal buildings currently operate at only 25% capacity, according to a July report by the Government Accountability Office.
With the pandemic over, getting federal workers back to the office has been a priority for Rep. Harriet Hageman, R-Wyo., a member of the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
“It is time for the federal workforce to return to work so the American people can receive a full and fair return on the services it funds through tax dollars,” Hageman told The Daily Signal in an emailed statement.
“I proposed and had passed amendments to [Defense Department] and State Department appropriations which would prohibit funds from supporting regular remote and telework for the civilian and contractor workforce of the Department of Defense,” Hageman said. “I have offered similar amendments for Transportation and HUD [Housing and Urban Development] appropriations, and am considering doing the same for the Department of Justice.”
Hageman, elected to the House in 2022, noted that one of her first bills—dubbed the SHOW UP Act—would have required federal agencies to reinstate their 2019 telework policies, in place before COVID-19 struck. (SHOW UP stands for “Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems.”)
The Wyoming Republican’s bill also would have required any expansion of an agency’s telework to be certified by the independent U.S. Office of Personnel Management as having a positive effect on the agency’s mission and operational costs.
The House passed the legislation in February, but the Democrat-controlled Senate hasn’t advanced it.
In April, Hageman noted, White House chief of state Jeff Zients called for more sensible options for remote work.
“This should be a no-brainer, that workers should go to work,” Hageman said, adding that “even this White House, which gets almost nothing right, agrees.”
“Just last month,” she said, Zients “sent an email to all the Cabinet members stating that President Biden is calling on his Cabinet to aggressively execute plans for federal employees to work more in their offices.”
Although the memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is not dated, the department provided its final response to the Oversight Project on Sept. 26 based on a request earlier that month.
However, the Justice Department Office of Inspector General contends that it has a record of success post-pandemic.
“As reflected in publicly reported data in our semiannual reports,” Communications Director Stephanie Logan told The Daily Signal in a written statement, “the OIG has been effectively conducting criminal and administrative investigations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to do so, resulting in highly successful outcomes in our criminal and administrative cases like the investigation and prosecution of the warden, chaplain, and six other Federal Bureau of Prison employees for sexually assaulting female inmates at FCI Dublin.”
Logan added: “Our agents understand that our critical investigative work occurs in the field performing investigative functions, such as conducting victim and witness interviews, executing search warrants, serving subpoenas, and obtaining documents and electronic records—and not from sitting at a desk in an office.”
Notably, fieldwork is not the same as telework.
The public records request from Heritage’s Oversight Project covered Jan. 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023.
The undated memo from the Office of Inspector General includes this caution to employees: “The mission of the OIG is our foundational principle; telework must be exercised consistent with the mission critical needs of the OIG.”
The memo says the telework plan follows guidelines from the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal workforce. It also acknowledges some functions can’t be performed from home:
For example, investigative functions often must be performed in person. In addition, when working on classified matters and other potentially sensitive matters, employees will likely need to report to the office more frequently than when they are not working on such matters. Further, some functions (e.g., support and customer service) may be more effectively accomplished in-person, thereby limiting the level of telework that will be approved. …
Other job functions can largely be accomplished effectively in a telework environment. Accordingly, telework policies and practices across OIG divisions, and possibly within divisions, will reflect differences in the OIG’s business needs and in the type of work individual employees are performing at a given time.
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