Recently introduced legislation would stop the Biden administration’s efforts to permanently expand telework for federal employees.
The bill is known as the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act (H.R. 7835) and was introduced by Congresswoman Yvette Herrell (R-NM).
A press release about the legislation states, “Using the pandemic experience as an excuse, the Biden Administration intends to permanently expand telework for federal employees with no concern for the possible impacts on agency performance.”
The bill would prevent the Biden Administration from unilaterally making pandemic-era telework for the federal workforce permanent until it provides Congress with a plan to avoid the potential adverse effects of remote work.
If enacted, it would immediately roll the federal government’s telework policy back to what was in place on December 31, 2019.
Additionally, within 6 months of enactment, the head of each federal agency would be required to submit a study to Congress which details the impact to the agency’s performance on expanded use of telework during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing an analysis of:
- Any adverse impacts of that expansion on the agency’s performance of its mission, including the performance of customer service by the agency
- Any costs to the agency during the telework expansion that can be attributed to owning, leasing, or maintaining under-utilized real property or paying higher rates of locality pay to teleworking employees as a result of incorrectly classifying such employees as teleworkers rather than remote workers
- Any degree to which the agency failed during that telework expansion to provide teleworking employees with secure network capacity, communications tools, necessary and secure access to appropriate agency data assets and Federal records, and equipment sufficient to enable each such employee to be fully productive
- Any degree to which that telework expansion facilitated dispersal of the agency workforce around the nation
- Any other impacts of that expansion that the agency or the Director considers appropriate
Herrell said that she needed to introduce the legislation because of the detrimental impact that expanded telework has had on services provided to Americans by the federal government. Some examples she cited include delayed processing of tax returns and refunds by the IRS and a backlog of disability claims at the VA.
In a statement about the bill, Herrell said:
Americans are struggling to receive their tax refunds, veterans are having difficulties accessing their benefits, and it’s all because of backlogs created by expanded telework policies for federal bureaucrats. It is long overdue for the federal workforce to return to work in person. The federal government exists to serve the American people and Congress has a responsibility to ensure federal agencies are meeting their missions. I’m proud to introduce the SHOW UP Act, which will rein in President Biden’s attempt to keep federal bureaucrats out of the office. If my constituents in New Mexico and other Americans are expected to show up to work, federal employees should be held to the same standard.
As of the time of this writing, the IRS had this notice on its website:
It’s taking us longer than normal to process mailed correspondence and more than 21 days to issue refunds for certain mailed and e-filed 2020 tax returns that require review. Thank you for your patience.
Laura Saunders, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, described in a May 20 column just how bad the customer service situation at the IRS has become in some instances.
Saunders said that she went to an IRS office in Harlem on a Saturday and arrived half an hour before it opened so she would be near the front of the line, only the problem was that wasn’t nearly early enough. As she described it:
I arrived at 8:30 a.m., because the hours were 9 to 4 and I wanted to be near the front of the line. Silly me: The line had started forming by 6:30, and by my count I was No. 48. By 9 a.m., the line had about 100 people and stretched a full city block outside the building. Some people brought their children.
She said there were only five IRS employees helping customers, and in total she waited 5.5 hours to inquire about a problem that ended up taking the IRS employee about 10 minutes to fix.
Reaching the agency by phone had proved impossible, so she and the other people waiting there had to resort to spending most of the day in line outside in the hot weather.
To the agency’s credit, Saunders said that most people she spoke with that day had their problems solved by visiting the IRS office, it just took most of the day to get done.
Other Efforts to Limit Telework for Federal Employees
Herrell is hardly the first lawmaker to make the case for returning federal employees to work in their agency offices.
Even President Biden said in his State of the Union speech that federal employees would be heading back to their offices in greater numbers as the pandemic was winding down and vaccines were more widely available.
However, a month later, two Republican Congressmen began asking questions as to why that did not appear to be happening. In response to the speech, the letter stated, “…these pronouncements [made by President Biden] 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.”
A bill introduced earlier this year in the Senate would require federal agencies to submit to Congress and publish on their website a plan for the agency to resume in-person operations.
And another bill introduced in the House around the same time would require the federal government to roll back its telework policy to where it was prior to the pandemic.
FedSmith Readers Not in Agreement
Despite the widespread reopening of events and businesses throughout the country and the efforts by so many lawmakers to put more federal employees back to work in offices, our readers have repeatedly told us in surveys which we have conducted that they still do not think it is time for the federal workforce to return to in-person work.
Our latest survey was conducted in March. The results from that survey showed that 60% of respondents said that they do not believe federal employees should resume work in their agency offices. Also, 67% of respondents said that they “agree completely” that their job duties can be performed remotely, and 72% said that they either completely or mostly agreed that their agencies’ missions could be carried out with employees working via telework.
Nearly half of respondents said they felt safe working in an office again, so as a practical matter, the results suggested that respondents preferred to work at home and thought they could still effectively complete their required tasks in doing so.
Federal employees who have to resume working in an office but would prefer not to may have some options available to them. FedSmith author and attorney Mathew Tully offers details in his article: Do I Have to Return to the Office? What Federal Employees Need to Know About Teleworking Flexibilities.