Weekly Columns

There is no doubt COVID-19 has presented a wide variety of challenges for us all and changed the way we interact with people, businesses and government. Unfortunately, Arkansans are currently experiencing roadblocks to essential government services as a result of unnecessarily scaled-back assistance among federal agencies. That is unacceptable and underscores the need to return to normalcy, resume in-person operations and even welcome Americans back to Capitol Hill.  

It’s past time our federal agencies followed in the footsteps of schools and businesses and restarted pre-COVID operations. Citizens shouldn’t experience an uphill climb to access the critical functions they provide, but each day I hear from Arkansans distressed due to decreased access to services they rely on. Federal agencies are continuing to operate as they did in 2020 with many offices closed to in-person interaction. These agencies are supposed to help us, but  instead they have become barriers to getting things done because of their unreasonable policies.  

One of the top problems I’ve heard about is the inability to walk-in to Social Security offices. Visits are by appointment only, so individuals with urgent problems sometimes wait several weeks before getting the attention they need. There appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel with the Social Security Administration announcing its offices will reopen in March. This is well overdue, but welcome news. I will be closely monitoring to ensure SSA follows through with its assurance so we can better accommodate the needs of Arkansans. 

Additional federal services including approval of veterans benefits and passport renewals have been delayed or continue to experience significant holdups in fulfilling requests made by Arkansans and all Americans because of federal work from home policies. The IRS recently warned of the challenges it expects this tax season in processing tax refunds in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in-person constraints at IRS paper processing centers. 

This outdated approach is hurting Americans in so many aspects of day-to-day life.

More Arkansans are also resuming trips to Washington to meet with lawmakers about issues important to their families, communities and businesses. These concerned constituents are prevented from coming in the Hart Senate Office Building and throughout Capitol Hill without an escort by my staff.

It’s time to open the U.S. Capitol and the congressional office buildings back up to the American people without this handholding restriction. They need access to these buildings containing so much of our nation’s history, art and culture. One of the things I enjoy most is watching our democracy and history come alive for Arkansans as they tour the Capitol, and right now our ability to give tours is severely limited.

I recently cosponsored legislation in support of reopening the Capitol and Senate buildings to the public, so everyone has the opportunity to engage with the elected leaders who represent them and enjoy these institutions that have shaped our national life. Fully welcoming Arkansans back to the nation’s capital will be a great day, and it should come quickly. 

Like so many fellow Arkansans, I know reopening can be done safely. With the easy accessibility to vaccines, testing, and other safety measures, my staff and I have been working from the office since May of 2020 to serve Arkansans and get answers about the federal services they rely on. Schools, businesses and other organizations have implemented similar safety precautions allowing them to resume operations. There is no reason federal facilities can’t follow suit.

The restrictive policies at the Capitol and across government agencies are only hurting the people these organizations are meant to serve. Getting federal employees back in the office is necessary to fulfilling their obligations to the public and providing the services they rely on.