The majority of federal employees are still teleworking at significantly higher levels than before the pandemic according to the 2023 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released the governmentwide 2023 FEVS results this week. One of the things that caught my eye is how many federal employees are still engaged in telework and remote work after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2023 FEVS results show that 54% of respondents telework at least 1 day per week. If you include federal employees who telework at all, it is even higher (68%).
The responses break down as follows:
- Telework every day: 14%
- Telework 3 or 4 days per week: 23%
- Telework 1 or 2 days per week: 17%
- Telework only 1 or 2 days per month: 4%
- Telework very infrequently: 10%
The figures are based on responses from 625,568 federal employees.
The 2023 figures stand out even more when juxtaposed with the 2019 FEVS results taken before the onset of the pandemic. Only 23% of respondents said at that time that they telework one or more days per week. Including federal employees who did any telework whatsoever put the number at 43%.
Number of Federal Employees Who Telework: 2019 – 2023
How did the numbers change since 2019?
|I telework every day||2%||47%||36%||**||14%|
|I telework 3 or more days per week***||–||–||–||25%||–|
|I telework 3 or 4 days per week||5%||12%||11%||–||23%|
|I telework 1 or 2 days per week||16%||8%||10%||17%||17%|
|I telework, but only about 1 or 2 days per month||6%||2%||3%||3%||4%|
|I telework very infrequently, on an unscheduled or short-term basis||14%||4%||9%||9%||10%|
|Telework at least 1 day per week||23%||67%||57%||42%||54%|
** This response choice was not included in the 2022 FEVS
*** This response choice was unique to the 2022 FEVS
“Return to the Office?”
The data show an apparent contradiction to what President Biden promised in his 2022 State of the Union speech. He said, “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.”
He also said during an interview in September 2022 that “the pandemic is over.”
One could perhaps argue that a “return to the office” happened to some degree in 2022 based on the figures above, but it hardly constitutes the “vast majority” of federal employees. Even so, if that was happening, it quickly reversed course in 2023 with the numbers of teleworking federal employees going back up almost to where they were in 2020.
Other actions taken by the Biden administration early this year suggest officials may have been aware that telework among the federal workforce was not declining.
In April, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued guidance to federal agencies directing them to “help ensure that agency decisions about their work environments continually improve their organization’s health and performance, including substantially increasing in-person work.” It left a lot of discretion to each agency, however.
In August, a report surfaced that the White House was again going to crack down on telework.
Axios reported, and Reuters confirmed, that White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients wrote in an email to Cabinet members, “We are returning to in-person work because it is critical to the well-being of our teams and will enable us to deliver better results for the American people.”
Zients added, “As we look towards the fall, and with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, your agencies will be implementing increases in the amount of in-person work for your team. This is a priority of the President — and I am looking to each of you to aggressively execute this shift in September and October.”
Perhaps going forward, the federal government’s telework numbers will reflect some of those directives. It is possible they could have already begun to shift. The 2023 FEVS was distributed to the federal workforce in May over a two-week period, so it is a snapshot of that timeframe.
Since that time, some agencies have publicly stated that they plan to scale back on telework. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for instance, said that agency employees will be expected to be “in office workspace at least as much as they’re in flexible work arrangements” beginning this fall. Other agencies have made similar announcements.
Has your agency formally announced plans to reduce telework, and if so, to what extent? Feel free to discuss it in the comments below.
Pushback Against Telework From Congress
Some Congressional lawmakers have been working to get federal employees back to work in their agency offices in greater numbers by sending letters conducting oversight of telework or introducing bills to roll back telework benefits. They have pointed out that despite the Biden administration’s assurances to resume in-person work, it does not appear to have happened. The 2023 FEVS results bolster that argument.
Others point to complaints from constituents that their calls are not being answered and they cannot get the services they require from federal agencies. Congressman James Comer (R-KY) said for instance, when he sponsored the SHOW UP Act:
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.
Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) has been investigating the extent to which federal employees may be using telework to get higher locality pay while mostly working in a lower-paying locality. The Senate recently passed an amendment to a spending bill she sponsored that would require more reporting on telework policies.
The 2023 FEVS results will not help the political debate surrounding telework. However, it appears unlikely that under the current session of Congress bills cutting telework benefits would pass into law.