Bill Imposing Telework Requirements: “Americans have been on hold while bureaucrats phone it in.”

A bill would impose restrictions on telework by federal employees. It would also require evaluating the impact of telework on delivery and response times of services.

Creating Telework Accountability

A bipartisan bill has been introduced to “create more accountability for serving Americans and save billions of taxpayer dollars.” That quote is in the press release from Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) regarding the Telework Transparency Act recently introduced by Senators Ernst and Gary Peters (D-MI).

Telework was a popular option for some federal employees before the COVID-19 pandemic. It became common for federal employees to work at home instead of a government office with encouragement from the government during the pandemic as getting a COVID shot became mandatory.

Getting employees back to work in offices has not been easy.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued guidance for federal agencies to “help ensure that agency decisions about their work environments continually improve their organization’s health and performance, including substantially increasing in-person work.” (emphasis added)

At about the same time, OPM director Kiran Ahuja said in testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, “These benefits [telework] include increased productivity, higher employee engagement, lower employee attrition, expanded recruitment pools, and cost savings for both agencies and employees.”

The 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey indicated that the number of federal employees teleworking had increased over the previous year. 42% of respondents said they utilized telework at least one or two days per week, 25% of whom said they teleworked at least 3 days per week.

Impact of Telework on Government Services

While it is apparent that many federal employees prefer working at home instead of going into an office, Senator Ernst is concerned about how this approach impacts government services to the public. While telework advocates often cite “increased productivity” and better services, Senator Ernst wrote:

(This bill) would require agencies to gather quality data on how telework impacts agency performance and federal property decisions. This would create more accountability for serving Americans and save billions of taxpayer dollars.

For too long, Americans have been on hold while bureaucrats phone it in. Since ‘temporary’ telework policies went into effect over four years ago, the remote lifestyle comes at the expense of the people federal agencies are meant to serve. My bipartisan bill will provide full transparency into the inefficiencies of telework, so taxpayers are no longer on the hook for expensive wasted space at federal headquarters and misspent locality pay.

Senator Ernst has previously cited telework by federal employees as creating problems for those who rely on federal government services. This issue was also the subject of an article in the Daily Mail online newsletter.

Telework in a Locality Pay Area

As noted in the quote above, Senator Ernst has also noted a link between locality pay and telework.

There is now a system that allows some employees to work at home—in a rural area—while collecting a higher locality-based pay in a city where they do not work.

The Federal Salary Council and the President’s Pay Agent have been very generous in expanding the boundaries of locality pay areas. For example, an employee can work in the Washington, DC locality pay area while living in a rural West Virginia community or rural Maryland because the boundaries for these pay areas have been routinely expanded using various techniques to add more employees into locality pay areas.

Requirements for Allowing Telework Outlined in the Bill

In December 2023, Senator Ernst released a list of agencies showing that none were occupying even half of their office space. She called on “Biden’s bureaucrats” to “deck the agency halls with federal workforce or sell off unused facilities.”

The bill would create requirements for using telework, including:

  • Requiring agencies to make policies publicly available online;
  • Establishing automated systems to track employee use of telework at each agency;
  • Mandating periodic audits to determine if agencies are doing enough to verify teleworking employees are getting paid the correct locality-based pay;
  • Monitoring office building utilization and the effects of telework on agency performance, including customer service, backlogs and wait times, cost to operations, security, management of property, technology investments, and recruitment and retention; and
  • Directing OPM to establish quality data standards and compile the data in a centralized location to ensure transparency for the American people.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47