Republicans in the House of Representatives are eager to see federal employees return to in-person work.
A new piece of legislation on its way to the U.S. Senate would make their wish a reality, obliging all federal entities to bring workers back to the office.
As Federal News Network recently reported, House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) introduced The Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act on Jan. 11.
The bill “would require all federal agencies to return to their pre-pandemic office arrangements,” wrote Federal News Network’s Drew Friedman, “in effect largely reducing the current amount of telework options for federal employees.”
Democrats still hold the Senate majority, of course, which makes the legislation’s passage unlikely. But its introduction should signal that House Republicans are serious about requiring the federal workplace to return to the office.
Telework’s Impact on Performance
If the bill is ultimately enacted, federal employees who worked in-person before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic would have 30 days to return to their pre-pandemic work arrangements, as Friedman noted.
In a statement the Committee on Oversight and Accountability issued regarding the bill, Comer decried what he called “the federal government’s detrimental pandemic-era telework policies for federal bureaucrats.”
Comer claims that President Joe Biden’s “unnecessary expansion of telework crippled the ability of departments and agencies to fulfill their responsibilities and created cumbersome backlogs,” saying the increase in federal remote work delayed assistance to veterans, tax refunds, passport applications and other basic services.
In addition to introducing the SHOW UP Act, Comer also sent a letter to General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Robin Carnahan regarding whistleblower reports “revealing she spends most of her time working remotely rather than in Washington, D.C.,” according to the committee’s statement.
Comer “is calling on Administrator Carnahan to provide information to determine whether these reports are accurate, and if so, understand the reason behind the routine absences.”
The proposed legislation would also require federal agencies to complete and submit to Congress studies detailing how pandemic-era telework levels affected their missions. Those reports would also have to contain information on agencies’ spending toward federal property leases, as well as locality pay-based raises for federal employees who weren’t working in the office, according to Federal News Network.
“Following the submission of those reports, under the proposed legislation, agencies would then have the opportunity to once again expand telework,” Friedman wrote, “but only if they could certify that it would have a ‘substantial positive effect’ on work performance.”
The Importance of Offering Flexibility
The recently introduced legislation does not mark the first time Republican lawmakers have raised concerns about the impact of telework, Friedman noted, pointing out that the SHOW UP bill was introduced in the last Congress by former Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.)
And, Comer co-wrote a March 2022 letter to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Chair Charlotte Burrows, voicing concerns that the EEOC “does not have an immediately executable plan for returning its personnel to in-person work.”
In the letter, Comer and Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-Va.), ranking member on the Committee on Education and Labor, urged Burrows to bring EEOC personnel back to in-person service “immediately.” They also requested that Burrows provide them with information such as the EEOC’s timetable for reopening each district, area, field and local office, and an analysis of the impact of closed offices on intake and processing of charges, for example.
(The EEOC has since returned many of its employees to in-office work, for at least part of the workweek.)
Meanwhile, House Democrats have “pushed for more long-term policies that expand telework for federal employees,” according to Federal News Network, “saying that the availability of more telework opportunities improves federal recruitment and retention.”
Indeed, Democrats in the House previously introduced legislation calling for more studies and data on the impact of telework, “in the hope of gathering information on the benefits of telework expansion,” Friedman wrote.
Others, such as U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja, have cautioned that federal agencies will need to offer the type of flexibility that telework affords if they want to keep pace with private sector employers in the battle for top talent.
“We’re seeing that this is the wave of the future in the private sector,” Ahuja said during testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Government Operations Subcommittee in 2022.
“The private sector is defining these positions based on [whether] they can provide more workplace flexibility. They’re working on all these dimensions that we want to be doing in the federal government so that we can compete with talent.”
19 January 2023
HR News Article