Audits: Many state, UW offices empty as employees work from home



(The Center Square) – A pair of Republican lawmakers are promising to hold hearings into why so many state and University of Wisconsin workers aren’t in their offices.

A pair of audits from the Legislative Audit Bureau looked at telework and office space trends.

Auditors found that nearly 20% of state employees are allowed to work from home, some as many as five days a week. That number jumps to more than 30% of UW workers who do not have to come into an office each day.

“This is the kind of audit I was looking to see. The detail within its hundreds of pages will give us better insight into how our oversight should move forward. I look forward to doing my due diligence to read the audits and then to holding a public hearing on both audits in the coming year,” Rep. Bob Wittke, R-Racine, said.

The audits say it is impossible to know just where some state employees actually work from each day.

“The precise extent to which employees worked from the office was not known. Therefore, we used the available data to analyze the extent to which employees teleworked,” auditors stated. “We requested the telework policies and agreements of 39 agencies; surveyed the 39 agencies about telework and space management practices; reviewed the state’s human resources, expenditure, and other data; contacted 19 agencies; and visited 15 agencies.”

The auditors did the same for the Universities of Wisconsin.

“We requested the telework policies and agreements of all 14 UW institutions; surveyed all UW institutions about telework and space management issues; reviewed UW’s human resources, expenditure, and other data; visited one UW System Administration building; and assessed information technology issues at 5 UW institutions.”

The audit says the average state employee was allowed to telework for an average of 2.7 days per week, that average jumped to three days per week for UW employees.

The auditors also found a lot of empty offices during their review and visits.

“The average proportion of workstations in use during our visits to the offices of 15 agencies ranged from 34.5 percent to 0.0 percent,” auditors wrote.

The Wisconsin Higher Education Aids Board building was empty on the day that the audit team visited.

The audit also states that no more than 25% of work stations at the state’s Employee Trust Fund department, the Department of Public Instruction, the WEDC, the Wisconsin Higher Education Aids Board, and the Wisconsin Technical College System Board are full on “any given day.”

Auditors did not go campus-to-campus to check on office space use for the UW. Instead, auditors visited one of the UW’s administrative buildings in Madison.

“An average of 31.1% of workstations were in use during our six visits to one UW System Administration building in August 2023,” the audit stated.

Auditors noted the UW administration leaves office space decisions up to each campus, so office space use on each campus will vary.

Sen. Eric Wimberger, R-Green Bay, said that 70% to 75% of office space is being left empty raises some serious concerns.

“With employees using a mere 35% or less of the physical workspace, the audit shows massive waste on expensive unnecessary physical structures. Further, since the telework methods have a pretext of work efficiency, I expect staff reductions are also appropriate,” Wimberger said. “UW System has also seen skyrocketing tuition to accommodate expensive workspaces that house a growing administrative employee payroll. I believe it is fair to ask UW System if cuts can be made to reduce infrastructure or administrative staff.”

You can read the full audit of state agencies here, and the full audit of the Universities of Wisconsin here.

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