Another Bill Introduced to Slash Telework for Federal Employees

Another bill has been introduced in the Senate to put limits on federal employees’ use of telework.

Legislation has been introduced that would require federal employees to return to in-person work in greater numbers.

The Back to Work Act (S. 4266) was introduced by Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) and is co-sponsored by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). It would limit telework to no more than 40% of days within an employee’s pay period and require agencies to report to Congress on the productivity of its telework activities.

Specifically, the bill would do the following:

  1. Set a general ceiling of 40% of days in a pay period for federal agency telework.
    • Provide reasonable flexibility for each agency, including allowing waivers for certain types of positions where telework is needed to support agency needs.
  2. Require agencies to monitor the work of employees engaged in telework to ensure they are actually working.
  3. Require agencies to report on their productivity metrics and the potential negative effects of telework on productivity, morale, security vulnerabilities, or waste, fraud, or abuse.

The Senators cited a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report which said that the headquarters buildings of many federal agencies are largely vacant well after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic because so many federal employees are teleworking. The report found that 17 of 24 agency headquarters buildings was using an average of 25% or less of its capacity for the time period studied. They said that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars to be paying for buildings that are mostly empty.

Romney said in a statement:

It has been nearly a year since President Biden formally ended COVID-19 public health emergency declarations, yet most of our federal office buildings remain empty—wasting millions of taxpayer dollars every day. Americans deserve to have a federal workforce that is both present and productive. Our bipartisan legislation would require federal employees to work in the office for a majority of the time, while still allowing reasonable flexibility for telework. Federal employees play an important role in ensuring that the government works for the American people, and it is past time for them to get back into the office to do the work that our constituents expect from their government.

Manchin added, “Federal workers have a unique obligation to connect with the citizens they serve, and exclusively remote work hinders this essential collaboration. Local businesses in West Virginia and across the country are also suffering from a lack of consumer traffic during the work days, which is negatively impacting our local economies.”

Other Efforts to Reduce Post-Pandemic Telework

There has been an increasingly bipartisan effort to get federal employees back to work in their agency offices.

President Biden said in 2022 that federal employees would be expected to return to work in greater numbers. He said in his State of the Union address that year, “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.”

The Biden administration issued guidance a year ago 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)

A report surfaced a few months later 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.”

Other recent efforts to scale back federal employees’ use of telework include:

  • The Telework Transparency Act would create requirements for using telework such as requiring agencies to post policies online and establish automated systems to track the use of telework.
  • The Utilizing Space Efficiently and Improving Technologies (USE IT) Act creates incentives for federal employees to return to in-office work by requiring GSA and OMB to implement a standard methodology for measuring occupancy and utilization of public buildings and directs the disposal of unused space.
  • A Senate amendment sponsored by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) 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.”
  • Legislation introduced last year in the Senate would require agency telework policies to return to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Senators demanded in a letter last year that federal employees return to work in their offices or that the GSA get rid of the unused office space to save taxpayers money.

Some agencies have issued plans to reduce telework. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for instance, announced last year that it would be reducing telework starting in the fall of 2023. Other agencies have made similar announcements but the process also requires negotiating bargaining agreements with unions which adds an extra layer of complexity to the process.

Data from the 2023 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results 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 commitment two years ago for federal employees to return to in-person work.

Whether or not any of these legislative efforts to scale back telework will advance or have a lasting impact remains to be seen.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.