Republican lawmaker calls for layoffs, criticizes remote work policies for UW and other Wisconsin state employees

After the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau reported state employees spend more time working from home than in their offices, Republican state Sen. Eric Wimberger accused agencies of wasting resources.

Associated Press

December 15, 2023

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Eric Wimberger sits at a table behind an open laptop computer and microphone, with a nameplate in front of him reading Senator Wimberger, with other people seated in the background  in front of a closed door.

State Sen. Eric Wimberger,R- Green Bay, participates in a Joint Finance Committee hearing on May 23, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. After the Legislative Audit Bureau released a report on Dec. 15 detailing the amount of time state employees work at home and in their offices, Wimberger accused agencies of wasting state resources. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Harm Verhuizen, AP / Report for America

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers on Dec. 15 called for layoffs at Wisconsin agencies and criticized remote work policies after an audit revealed that state employees were spending substantially more time working from home than in their offices.

However, a majority of the agencies surveyed said that remote work had increased their efficiency. Most state agencies allow employees to work remotely up to five days a week, and employees at several agency headquarters seldom used their ID cards to access the buildings, according to the audit published Friday by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau.

“The audit shows massive waste on expensive unnecessary physical structures,” Republican Sen. Eric Wimberger, who co-chairs the Legislature’s audit committee, said in a statement.

Key card data reviewed by auditors also suggested that some state employees may be working in person less often than stipulated by their remote work agreements.

Wimberger said that since agencies say remote work makes them more efficient, he believes staff cuts are in order. Auditors proposed renting fewer state office spaces if officials don’t require employees to return to in-person work.

Of the 39 agencies in Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration that auditors reviewed, 26 allowed employees to work from home up to five days a week. The same held true for most University of Wisconsin institutions.

In the first six months of 2023, more than 3,000 state employees at four major headquarters buildings in Madison used their key cards to access the buildings an average of 1.3 times a week.

Auditors reported that on average less than a third of work stations were in use at the University of Wisconsin System and the offices of 15 state agencies that they visited repeatedly in July and August.

“UW System has also seen skyrocketing tuition to accommodate expensive workspaces that house a growing administrative employee payroll,” Wimberger said. “I believe it is fair to ask UW System if cuts can be made to reduce infrastructure or administrative staff.”

His comments come after university officials agreed Dec. 13 to limit diversity, equity and inclusion positions on campus in order to free up funding for pay raises and construction projects that had been withheld in negotiations with Republicans who control the Legislature.

Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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