Legislation has been reintroduced to promote and expand telework opportunities for federal employees.
The bill seeks to “strengthen and expand the federal government’s telework programs by capitalizing on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic,” as a press release issued by Connolly’s office describes the legislation.
This is a summary of some of the features of the bill:
- Reform the administration of federal telework programs by empowering the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to:
- develop standards for the collection and use of federal agency data to expand telework;
- help develop supervisor and manger training on telework; and
- publish guidance to help agencies manage their telework programs.
- Promote transparency and accountability for federal telework programs by requiring agencies to:
- report annually to OPM on their goals and priorities to expand telework access—including to military spouses;
- report to Congress and OPM within 30 days if the agency head has the intention to reduce telework access for any reason;
- track cost savings achieved through the expansion of telework;
- train managers and supervisors on how to effectively engage teleworking employees; and
- consistently review and update existing telework guidance.
- Clarify the definition of telework and ensure that remote work is considered a form of teleworking.
The bill would also potentially restrict federal agencies from cutting back on telework. A section of the bill entitled “Limitation On Reducing Telework Eligibility” states:
An executive agency may not reduce or otherwise limit the level of employees at the executive agency eligible to telework, or reduce or otherwise limit eligibility for, or levels of, teleworking on a uniform, agency-wide basis, below such levels in effect at the executive agency on the date of enactment of this Act.
Connolly represents a district in Congress that is home to many federal employees. He frequently will introduce bills that are focused around the federal workforce in some way. For instance, he introduces legislation each year that would give federal employees a higher pay raise than what they otherwise likely would receive through the normal political process.
Not surprisingly, he is a fan of telework. In a statement about the bill, he said:
As we emerge from the pandemic, federal agencies must continue to invest in strategies and practices that worked. And Congress must ensure that the federal government has the tools it needs to compete with the private sector for top talent. The reform included in the Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act are critical to strengthening federal telework programs in a way that both captures some of the telework gains we made amid the pandemic while also ensuring federal telework is deployed appropriately. This bill will help attract top talent to federal service—regardless of their location.
Is Telework Really Working? Not All Lawmakers Agree
Not all lawmakers would agree with Connolly’s assertions about telework being one of the pandemic’s “practices that worked.”
A growing number of lawmakers have been writing letters and introducing bills advocating for scaling the number of federal employees teleworking back to pre-pandemic levels, and they point to the various problems their constituents report having when they try to get services from different federal agencies.
One of the most recent examples is the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act (H.R. 7835) introduced by Congresswoman Yvette Herrell (R-NM). Herrell’s summary of the bill said, “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, among other things, roll the federal government’s telework policy back to what was in place on December 31, 2019 and 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.
Other lawmakers have said their constituents have faced problems getting services from agencies such as the Social Security Administration or pointed to the massive backlog of claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs as evidence that telework has not worked well.
Even President Biden said in the state of the union address, “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.” However, other Congressmen later pointed out that this appears to not have happened, and lawmakers such as Herrell are obviously anticipating an effort by the Biden administration to permanently expand telework among federal employees, something she is trying to preclude.
What Do FedSmith Readers Think of Telework?
In surveys we have conducted of our readers, the majority of feedback indicates that most of our readers would agree with Congressman Connolly that telework works.
Our most recent survey was conducted in March. It found that fewer respondents think federal employees need to continue teleworking to avoid COVID-19 (most respondents said they feel safe returning to in-person work), but the overall majority (60%) still believe that federal employees should not return to working in their offices en masse. The results suggested that most of the federal employees who read FedSmith like telework and believe it is effective.
As far back as 2010, our readers have indicated in feedback from surveys that they think telework is likely to lead to greater efficiency.
Telework seems to be one of many things that has become politicized in Washington, especially as the pandemic continues to present less of a threat as time goes on. OPM has said it anticipates more telework for federal employees overall going forward, and that certainly seems to have become the broader trend within much of the workforce in America today. Most current indicators suggest that telework is here to stay. To what extent and how it is shaped by politics as the pandemic continues to fade further into the background remains to be seen.