Republican lawmakers are again demanding answers from Biden administration officials as to why federal employees have not returned to work in their agency offices in greater numbers after President Biden said the government would begin to wind down expanded use of telework.
Congressmen Jody Hice (R-GA) and James Comer (R-KY) recently sent a letter to Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Kiran Ahuja and General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Robin Carnahan asking the question, “Are the vast majority of federal workers returning to their offices or are they not?”
The questions were raised again after President Biden said in his State of the Union address that federal employees would be returning to work in greater numbers.
During the speech, Biden said, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again. People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office. We’re doing that here in the federal government. The vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person.”
In direct response to this statement Biden made, Comer and Hice said in their letter, “…these pronouncements are not reflected in the number of employees working on premises at the departments and agencies. Therefore, we request documents and information about the Administration’s current plans to have the federal workforce return to the workplace as well as information related to capacity and usage of the federal real property portfolio.”
They went on to add:
It is long overdue for the federal workforce to return to work at their duty stations. We have repeatedly urged the Administration to bring federal employees back as soon as possible. Every day Americans wait for that return is another day they suffer underperforming, inefficient services from federal workers not at their offices. It is also another day taxpayer funds are wasted on unoccupied federal office space. The high cost of excess federal real property holdings has been a long-standing problem. It can only have been exacerbated by the broad under-utilization of federal real property during the pandemic expansion of telework and remote work. It must be brought under control—not worsened by further delay in returning federal employees to in-person work.
Hice was demanding federal employees return to work in their agency offices as far back as last year. He pointed out in the May 18, 2021 letter that vaccination rates and immunity levels had increased greatly throughout the country and also pointed to various examples of languishing services being provided to taxpayers due to federal employees being absent from their offices, such as the IRS saying that it was struggling to provide adequate assistance to taxpayers because of the lack of employees working in-person in the agency’s offices.
Comer and Hice also noted in their letter that OPM has said it is “transitioning to a hybrid work environment” and has encouraged greater use of telework by federal employees as part of its 2021 Guide to Telework and Remote Work in the Federal Government.
Consequently, Comer and Hice are perplexed by the apparent dichotomy of the two positions being promoted by the Biden administration.
They also asked if the federal government really needs to own so many office buildings if federal employees are not going to be returning to office work at pre-pandemic levels.
Comer and Hice instructed OPM and GSA to provide them with the following information:
- The date by which OPM expects the federal government to have achieved the return of “the vast majority of federal workers to work in person” at their official worksites;
- All documents and communications referring or relating to agency plans to return “the vast majority of federal workers to work in person” at their official worksites;
- All documents and communications referring or relating to either OPM or agency plans to transition instead to hybrid work environments (i.e., to materially expand future levels of telework and remote work beyond pre-pandemic levels).
- A list of all federal real property holdings administered by the General Services Administration with office space being used at less than full capacity;
- A listing of the monthly costs to the federal government of owning, leasing and maintaining unused federal office space in those properties, listed property by property, agency by agency, and in total.