The Department of Veterans Affairs said this week that federal employees at the agency would have to spend more time working in the office starting in the fall.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough sent a memo to agency employees on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, announcing the new telework plan for federal employees at agency offices in the Washington, DC region. He said that the new telework plan is consistent with recent guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget to require agencies to begin “substantially increasing in-person work” for federal employees.
During a press conference held on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, McDonough said that DC area agency employees will be expected to be “in office workspace at least as much as they’re in flexible work arrangements.”
He added that this means that the VA’s goal is to get its employees working in the office at least five days per pay period.
The VA is making the announcement as early as possible so that employees have time to make necessary arrangements with their supervisors and families by the time the new policy begins in the fall. It also allows time for the agency to work with federal employee unions to fulfill its collective bargaining requirements on the new policy.
He said he did hear some pushback from agency employees at lunch that day when discussing the new telework plans and anticipates that he will be hearing more, but he also added that this was a good thing. “I want to be part of an agency that has a free flow of information from our employees,” said McDonough.
He added that despite VA employees performing their duties successfully via telework during the pandemic, he thinks that the new work arrangements will enhance productivity even further.
“I also see the goodness of the why of this which is as well as we have performed, we can perform at an even higher level when we’re in workspaces like we are here, collaborating working together, learning from one another,” said McDonough.
He also left open the possibility for future policy changes allowing for greater use of telework. “We’re going to defend their [agency employees’] right to be able to continue to work in those more flexible settings,” said McDonough.
McDonough was also asked how many federal employees at the agency were currently working on telework. He did not have the number but said that Congress has also asked him for this information, which is a reference to letters that the House Oversight Committee sent recently to various federal agencies including the VA. He said he would be providing that information to Congress as soon as it was available. The letters had given agencies a deadline of June 1, 2023, to respond to the various questions the lawmakers posed in the letters.