Not so casual Fridays

Business as usual is no more at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In a two-part YouTube video series, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made his case to employees for new sweeping policies at USDA. He calls his new plan “One USDA.”

It appears the most controversial policy being implemented is a restrictive telework schedule. It’s well known in this town that USDA employees have very lenient telework liberties. How I envy them.

However, come February, things are changing at the department. Employees will have to work in the USDA office at least four days a week.

In the second YouTube video, Secretary Perdue made his telework announcement, along with other changes, “designed to make us function more as a single team.” In the video, Perdue recounted the story of the Indiana basketball team in the film ‘Hoosiers.’

Perdue tells the story, “Coach Norman Dale for the longest time never let his players shoot the basketball in practice, opting instead to focus on fundamental drills and what it meant to move together. At one point, he tells them the whole point. He says five players on the floor, functioning as one single team, team, team. No one more important than the other.”

He goes on, “And that’s us…team, team, team USDA.”

This plan only works, said Perdue, “If, like Coach Dale did with his players, we turn the focus on the fundamentals. Are we doing right by the taxpayer? Are we doing right by our colleagues?”

“I’m serious about holding everyone accountable, but especially every leader and every supervisor, and honestly that starts with me.”

While I appreciate the secretary’s commitment to being in the office and attempting to put himself on a level playing field with his employees, is that really realistic? Is American agriculture best served by its secretary being in the office at least four days a week? I’m curious to see how long this lasts at his level.

Given Secretary Perdue’s efforts to focus on the “USDA family,” as he often calls his employees, it seems a little odd that USDA employees are now being forced to spend less time with family. This is not my argument against the new policy, however.

Many USDA employees have spoken out against the new policy, arguing that they will now have to find sitters for children and older family members. Welcome to the working world the rest of us live in, folks. If you’re taking care of your toddler or elderly mother while teleworking on the taxpayer’s dime, then are you really working as hard as you would be in the office without those distractions?

Many USDA employees have been encouraged to telework in recent years, and USDA says that only 20 percent of its employees will be affected, but that’s not what you’d think with all the employees crying foul in the press.

Time will tell what effects this new policy has on the department and its "family."

Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.