Legislation to reduce telework benefits for federal employees that was recently reintroduced in the new session of Congress was approved by the House of Representatives this week.
The Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act (H.R. 139) would cut back on the amount of telework currently being enjoyed by federal workers. It was reintroduced by Congressman James Comer (R-KY) who is also the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
The bill was first introduced last year by Congresswoman Yvette Herrell (R-NM). It ultimately failed to advance.
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 hailed passage of the legislation by the House, saying that he introduced the SHOW UP Act to prevent the Biden Administration from cementing heightened pandemic-era telework policies for federal employees until it proves the efficacy of remote work.
In a prepared statement, he said:
Today the People’s House have sent a strong message to the Biden Administration: it’s time for the federal workforce to get back to work in-person for the American people. For years now, Americans have suffered because of the federal government’s detrimental pandemic-era telework policies. President Biden’s unnecessary expansion of telework has crippled the ability of agencies to get their jobs done and created backlogs. Seniors have experienced delays with the Social Security Administration, American taxpayers have struggled to get help from the IRS during tax filing season, and veterans have been unable to access their records to obtain care and benefits they have earned.
The SHOW UP Act ensures our government shows up for the people we are here to serve, because American workers across the country show up every day. Federal employees should follow their example. I am pleased the House has passed this bill and urge the Senate to take it up without delay.
Republicans Have Long Standing Concerns About Expanded Telework for Federal Employees
Republicans have been concerned for some time now about complaints they have received from their constituents when trying to get services from the government with federal employees operating under expanded telework policies.
For example, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced legislation a year ago in the previous session of Congress that would have directed federal agencies to submit a comprehensive plan to resume in-person operations and address constituents’ concerns about federal government services.
Wicker said in a statement at the time:
Businesses have now reopened, children and teachers have returned to in-person learning, and health care and public safety workers continue to show up for work. Yet 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.
Among the concerns Wicker had about languishing services his constituents were encountering were a backlog of over 200,000 cases at the Department of Veterans Affairs and delays in getting tax returns processed by the Internal Revenue Service.
The problems some Republican lawmakers were citing date back even farther. In April 2021, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) said in a letter he sent to the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management that many of his constituents have experienced difficulties getting basic government services because of a lack of personnel working at local federal agencies in person.
He wrote in the letter:
Over the past several weeks, my constituents have reported that certain federal agency offices are nonresponsive. While these complaints are widespread across agencies, particular concern has been directed at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) and local offices of the Social Security Administration (SSA). For example, constituents in Missouri are being met with a response from the NPRC that the agency is “servicing only urgent requests related to medical emergencies and burials” and that constituents should consider “delaying [their requests] until we are past this national emergency.” In addition, constituents have complained about long wait times for even phone appointments at SSA offices.
Democrats and federal employee unions have consistently been opposed to reductions in telework for federal employees. In the vote this week on the House bill, all but 3 Democrats voted against it when it passed in a 221-206 vote.