It’s been almost four years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that wound up sending most Americans, including federal employees, into a never-before-seen exodus from offices to working from home. However, a new report shows that telework remains at such elevated levels within the federal workforce that many federal agencies are utilizing well under half of their available office space in their headquarters buildings despite the pandemic having formally ended.
Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) released the report with the occupancy rates for 24 federal agency headquarters offices in the Washington, DC area. Each of the agencies in the list was utilizing under 50% of its available office space. The highest occupancy rate was the Department of State at 49%. The lowest were the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development both of which were only 7%.
Other agencies on the list include the Agriculture Department (11%), Education Department (17%), Defense Department (25%), and Commerce Department (36%).
The data were compiled by the Government Accountability Office and are based on an estimated three-month average utilization of space statistics for the period sampled in January, February, and March 2023.
The report is just the latest step Ernst has taken in her efforts to scrutinize the federal government’s telework practices. In August, she sent a series of letters demanding investigations into whether or not federal employees were using telework to get paid at higher locality pay rates while working in lower cost-of-living areas.
She also sponsored an amendment that passed in the Senate which addressed the same matter. The amendment requires reporting on how many federal employees “perform the majority of their working hours in a locality pay area with a lower locality rate than the locality rate for the locality pay area in which the official worksite of the employee is located, but continue to receive the higher locality rate associated with the official worksite of the employee.”
Her investigations are primarily focused on other similar cost-savings measures such as whether or not taxpayer money could be saved by consolidating office space and demanding that unused office space either be eliminated or reoccupied by returning federal employees to in-person work.
FEVS Results Show Elevated Telework Among Federal Employees
The 2023 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results would seem to back up the data in the report released by Ernst. Response data indicate that the majority of federal employees are still engaged in telework and remote work after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and despite President Biden’s call last year for federal employees to return to in-person work.
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%
Reported telework levels also increased in 2023 over 2022. For additional details, see Most Federal Employees Are Still Teleworking.