A tool meant to provide customer service to the public from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has turned into a message board full of complaints and demands made by the agency’s employees.
Federal workers are complaining about "second hand e-cigarette smoke," want taxpayers to subsidize their bike share, and do not want to have to use their government laptop when they work from home.
"The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Switchboard tool represents a means that can be replicated by other agencies to respond to customers," Digital.gov wrote on Friday. The Switchboard website acts as a message board where users can comment on how to improve the agency’s customer service. The tool was launched in 2009 and has been touted as an innovative way to improve the agency’s dealings with taxpayers.
However, the Digital.gov noted that 80 percent of the suggestions are from HUD employees themselves.
"Please ban the use of e-cigarettes inside HUD offices" is the subject line of one request.
"I recently discovered that a fellow HUD employee has been smoking e-cigarettes in his cubicle and we share an office space," the worker said. "It took 2 months for me to discovered this [sic throughout]."
"When I found out I informed the building administrator who told me that this employee has previously been advised not to do so but that there are no clear policy prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in-side HUD offices," the employee said.
The employee then asks that management change the definition of smoking to include water vapor from e-cigarettes.
"I am pregnant and I find that exposure to second hand e-cigarette smoke in the work place to be unacceptable," she said. "Smoking in-door is already prohibited, so I urge the HUD leadership to expand the definition of smoking to include the use of e-cigarettes so that non-smoking employees will not be exposed second hand smoke in the work place."
The post only has 91 "upvotes," well below the 200-vote threshold required for HUD management to take up the issue. Nevertheless, Jay Austin, the program manager for Switchboard, replied to the post saying "wanted to let y’all know that we’re still looking into this, and hoping to get you a more helpful update soon. :)"
Other ideas from HUD employees include eliminating the designated smoking area at HUD headquarters, subsidizing bike share for field employees, and establishing a "formal workplace bullying grievance process."
"There continues to be a lack of knowledge of what workplace bullying looks like, and so staff find themselves confused about what is happening to them and where to turn," the post said. "When they seek support from upper management, the [Employee and Labor Relations Division] ELRD, [Equal Employment Opportunity commission] EEO, and Union, they often meet individuals who are unfamiliar with what workplace bullying is and how serious [sic] it needs to be taken."
"Workplace bullies cannot be ‘trained’ out of their behavior," the employee concluded. "They must be removed from their positions of power."
"Good point. We’ll look into this!" Austin replied.
Other employees asked for automatic approval for employees who want to work from home for three days or fewer, and automatic enrollment for all federal employees in the TSA Pre-Check program so they do not have to wait as long as non-government employees at airports.
One worker does not want to be required to use their government laptop when they telework because it makes them "less productive."
"Laptop screens are tiny and hard to use," the employee said. "You have to flip back and forth between documents and it kills productivity. Also, carrying laptops back and forth to work will be a pain and add to the likelihood that laptops will get lost, stolen or broken."
Another post calls for "smaller, greener" affordable housing because "Large, happy families were raised in smaller homes" after World War II.