Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) gave Health and Human and Services Secretary Xavier Becerra a drubbing this week over “generous telework policies” that he said were likely affecting the department’s productivity.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services was a prime target for Cassidy, who asked multiple questions about the agency’s remote work policies during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday.
He flashed a photo of an empty parking lot, purportedly taken at CMS headquarters in Maryland on Monday, while asking Becerra how he knew if his employees were working.
“If there’s no cars, the building is empty,” Cassidy said. “How many full-time employees are at their desk in one of these buildings every day?”
CMS has previously acknowledged it is facing its own staff shortages, as are many state survey agencies that compete for nurses to fill many inspector roles. It’s a problem that Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) has highlighted from his perch atop the Senate Aging Committee, noting that a majority of the nation’s nursing homes have not been routinely surveyed for care quality compliance since the pandemic state.
The issue remains a concern for operators, who may face mounting penalties and see ratings affected for longer than intended if follow-ups are not conducted in a timely manner. It’s an ongoing concern for consumer advocates and workers concerned about safety, as well. Missouri nursing home workers Wednesday held a press conference urging their governor to increase the number of inspections and ensure more surveys are completed there.
CMS officials, meanwhile, are facing shortages throughout the ranks. In January, Principal Deputy Administrator and Chief Operating Officer Jon Blum told listeners on a stakeholders call that the agency had hired for about 500 positions in late 2022. But at the time, it still had about 700 open jobs, representing about 10% of the agency’s workforce.
Cassidy on Wednesday took exception to a recruitment strategy promoting telework policies in trying to attract job seekers. He said some HHS workers, including those at CMS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have told him they must report to the office just once a month.
Becerra told the senator that HHS ensures all of its employees are “performing and delivering.”