Legislation Reintroduced to Slash Telework Flexibilities for Federal Employees

Legislation has been introduced to prevent the Biden administration from making pandemic era telework policies permanent.

Among the first of the bills introduced in the new House of Representatives in the 118th Congress is one that involves federal employees. Specifically, the legislation would cut back on the amount of telework currently being afforded to federal workers.

The Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act (H.R. 139) was reintroduced in the House by Congressman James Comer (R-KY). Comer also is the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

The bill would require that the federal government’s telework policy be returned to the pre-COVID telework policy that was last in place on December 31, 2019. It also forbids expanding the telework policy, practices or levels until a plan is submitted to Congress about the effects of telework on federal agencies and productivity.

Specifically, the legislation calls for the plan to include the following:

  • A study on the impacts on the agency and its mission of expanding telework by its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic that commenced in 2019
  • Any adverse impacts of telework’s expansion on the agency’s performance of its mission, including the performance of the agency’s customer service
  • Any costs to the agency during the expanded telework period attributable 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 the expanded telework period 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 expanded use of telework facilitated dispersal of the agency workforce around the Nation
  • Any other impacts of the telework expansion that the agency or the Director considers appropriate
  • Any agency plan to expand telework beyond the pre-COVID levels as well as a certification by the agency’s director that any such telework expansion would be beneficial to the agency’s mission and customer service and substantially lower the agency’s costs

Comer said in a statement about the bill that more federal employees working remotely is damaging the customer service that the federal government is providing to American citizens:

For years, Americans have suffered from the federal government’s detrimental pandemic-era telework policies for federal bureaucrats. President Biden’s unnecessary expansion of telework crippled the ability of departments and agencies to fulfill their responsibilities and created cumbersome backlogs. The federal government exists to serve the American people and these substantial delays for basic services are unacceptable. As Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, I intend to advance commonsense legislation to guarantee federal agencies are meeting their missions.

He added that he has received reports that General Services Administration administrator Robin Carnahan is spending the majority of her time working remotely rather than in her office in Washington, DC and that he is seeking information to corroborate the reports. He sent a letter to Carnahan asking her about her telework habits.

Federal employee unions were, not surprisingly, quick to denounce the bill. The American Federation of Government Employees said in a statement, “At a time when agencies across government are struggling to hire and retain a new generation of government employees, Congress should be focused on improving pay, benefits, and career development opportunities. Instead, we see message bills like the SHOW UP Act that denigrate the federal workforce and undermine recruitment and retention.”

Previous Legislation Limiting Telework

Similar legislation was introduced in the previous Congress by former Congresswoman Yvette Herrell (R-NM). A bill with the same name was introduced in May 2022 to roll the federal government’s telework policy back to pre-pandemic levels.

Herrell said in a statement at the time that the expanded telework policies were bringing unnecessary harm to Americans:

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.

In addition to Herrell’s bill, Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ) introduced the Return to Work Act (H.R. 6703) in early 2022 which also would require federal agencies to reinstate their telework policies used before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate in February 2022. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) said in a statement when introducing the bill that he was distraught by reports from his constituents about encountering a lack of responsiveness from customer service by federal agencies.

“I continue to hear from constituents about a lack of responsiveness from federal agencies. It is now far past time to bring back our federal workers and deliver the service that the American people have been promised and expect of their government,” said Wicker.

Is Expanded Telework Leading to Fraud?

An organization known as the Federal Government Initiative (FGI) was also curious about the impact the ongoing dramatic expanded use of telework in the federal government has had on service to taxpayers.

According to a statement on its website, “The Functional Government Initiative (FGI) is a new organization dedicated to improving the American public’s awareness about the officials, decisions, and priorities of their government.”

In a recent report, the organization published the results of its analysis on 24 federal agencies in which it examined the use of leave by federal employees in the expanded telework era. FGI said it found the following:

  • There has been a steep decline in the use of both annual and sick leave among federal employees since the expanded use of telework began. Annual leave use has declined by over 15% and sick leave use has declined by 30% (2020 compared to 2018). The decline of sick leave use continued through 2021.
  • Every agency analyzed experienced a decline in sick leave use in 2021 compared to 2018, with use at several agencies down by more than 50%.
  • The drop in annual leave used compared to 2018 is equivalent to nearly $600 million in base pay collected, and the drop in sick leave equates to more than $845 million. Collevetly, the declines in both types of leave use among federal employees is a cost to taxpayers of more than $1.4 billion since the pandemic began.

FGI expressed concerns that federal employees may be taking time away from work without taking leave based on its findings. “The goal of the research was to was assess whether employees continued to use accrued leave as most employees were on full-time telework at rates comparable to the years immediately prior to the pandemic,” according to the report.

At the very least, FGI said that its research indicates that the impact of expanded telework among federal employees should be investigated more fully before the federal government engages in a perpetual expansion of telework.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.