Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been pretty adamant about putting a stop to large-scale federal telework once the coronavirus pandemic eventually recedes.
In January, for instance, House Republicans introduced The SHOW Up Act, which would oblige all federal employees who worked in-person before the pandemic to return to their pre-COVID office arrangements within 30 days of the legislation’s enactment.
In a statement announcing the bill’s introduction, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability’s chair lambasted what he called “the federal government’s detrimental pandemic-era telework policies for federal bureaucrats.”
Saying that President Biden’s “unnecessary expansion of telework crippled the ability of departments and agencies to fulfill their responsibilities and created cumbersome backlogs,” James Comer (R-Ky.) claimed the increase in federal remote work has delayed assistance to veterans, tax refunds, passport applications and other basic services.
A recent survey shows that federal employees have a very different view of how the pandemic affected their productivity.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) polled more than 3,100 government employees in March of this year, with 71% of respondents saying that telework improved productivity at their agency “a great deal.” All told, 97% reported that working remotely throughout these last three-plus years either improved their organization’s productivity or had no effect on their output.
Concerns Among Rank-and-File Federal Workers
When asked what factors are contributing to backlogs at federal agencies, just 6% of respondents cited remote work. The largest number (66%) attributed service logjams to understaffing and lack of resources. Another 39% pointed to understaffing and lack of resources, as well as ineffective leadership (27%), as the biggest barriers to improving service in their agencies. Only 1% said the same about telework and remote work policies.
At a recent hearing held by the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Kiran Ahuja echoed federal employees’ sentiment that remote work is not to blame for the service bottlenecks hampering some government agencies.
While not speaking to what might be behind service struggles at other agencies, Ahuja said that, “in OPM’s case, managing long-running backlogs in processing the retirement claims of departing federal employers is an issue of staffing, agency budgets and technology, not telework,” Government Executive reported at the time.
And, in written testimony she provided to the committee, Ahuja maintained that OPM’s “mission support functions have seen substantial improvements during a period where we continue to employ workplace flexibilities, adding that OPM has also seen recruitment and retention measures gradually improve between 2019 and 2022.
Respondents to the AFGE survey suggest that reducing remote work options would not only hurt retention, but would exacerbate existing service backlogs. Among those surveyed, 77% feel that reductions in telework would make it more difficult to recruit and retain employees, with 74% saying that cutting back on remote work would have a negative effect on productivity. More than half of the federal employees polled said that less telework would hurt customer service, and 50% figure that doing so would only make bottlenecks worse.
“Overwhelmingly, federal employees are saying that increased telework has improved government productivity, and they are worried that telework rollbacks will exacerbate agency backlogs caused by budget cuts and understaffing,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a statement.
“These civil servants show up every day to deliver government services to the American people—whether in a physical office or remotely. As lawmakers, policymakers and agency leadership discuss the future of telework, the voices and concerns of rank-and-file federal employees deserve to be heard.”
01 May 2023
HR News Article