Empower Wisconsin | April 27, 2022
By M.D. Kittle — For the professionals stuck in Gov, Tony Evers’ dysfunctional licensing agency, the aggravating delays are all the more frustrating knowing that the vast majority of Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) employees are still working remotely.
Hell, they’re not even showing up at the help desk.
As Empower Wisconsin reported last month, nearly 70 percent of the agency’s workforce was working remotely under Evers’ questionable COVID mitigation policies. Sources tell Empower Wisconsin the front desk in the DSPS office at the state’s new Hill Farms Transportation Building in Madison often doesn’t open until after noon.
A photo taken recently shows the customer service center behind the glass empty during normal hours on a work day.
Private sector workers have long ago returned to their offices, stores and factories. But many of the Evers administration’s state employees are still working from home two years after the governor effectively locked down state government amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Just how many remain working remotely? The Department of Administration has yet to respond to Empower Wisconsin’s request for that information, and whether state employees still are being encouraged to work from home.
They are, according to an employee survey.
“In your ideal work situation, how many per week would you choose to work remotely if there were no established requirements to work from the office?” the survey asks.
Employees are given five options:
1 day a week remote
2 day a week remote
3 day a week remote
4 day a week remote
And, yes, the full week out of the office.
The survey also asks which days employees would prefer working remotely. And whether current storage space within their work stations adequately addresses their needs.
State employees tell Empower Wisconsin several departments are still operating polices that allow staff to work three days in the building and two days at home.
Keep in mind, taxpayers just pumped a lot of money (nearly $200 million) into the Hill Farms State Office Building, home to seven state agencies, including the massive Department of Transportation and a 1,700-car parking garage.
Now the governor wants to know whether state employees would rather stay at home.
“I think it’s sad when the rest of Wisconsin is getting back to work but apparently the bureaucrat-in-chief doesn’t think that that’s important to do for state employees,” said state Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers).
Sortwell chairs the Assembly Regulatory Licensing Reform Committee looking into why DSPS is sitting on a crippling backlog of licensing applications and renewals. Empower Wisconsin has detailed the horror stories of professionals waiting months, some nearly a year, to move through the bureaucratic labyrinth.
“An overwhelming majority of your staff is not coming into your office. You don’t think that’s contributing at all to your backlog?” Sortwell asked a DSPS official at a public hearing last month. The bureaucrat would only say DSPS customers don’t care where their licenses are being processed.
They do if the taxpayer-funded work isn’t getting done.
“DSPS exists to support our workforce. They are there for permits and new occupational licenses. When they are not doing their job, they are getting in the way of other people working,” Sortwell said Tuesday in an interview.
More than a year after the pandemic, the Evers administration was rolling out his “Vision 2030” plan for the future of remote state government. While the vision focuses on workforce and aging infrastructure, it seems Evers is diving headlong into 2030 on the work-from-home front in 2022. He vetoed a bill that would have required him to come up with a plan to get state employees back to work at state buildings.
And he appears to have little concern for the costs of maintaining all of those taxpayer-funded buildings, particularly the new, more efficient complexes constructed to house 21st century government workers.
Like many of the governor’s big plans — Clean Energy Plan, COVID lockdowns, COVID recovery — his remote government initiative isn’t very well thought out. And its failures are costing Wisconsin in many different ways.