Joni Ernst is not the only lawmaker with strong opinions about federal telework. But she’s certainly among the most vocal.
In September, for example, the Iowa Republican senator demanded that the U.S. government’s “bubble bath bureaucrats” who transitioned to remote work when the coronavirus arrived early in 2020 return to the office ASAP.
At the same time, she took to the Senate floor to call for an investigation of every major government department and agency “to determine the impact of telework on the delivery and response times of services, how much taxpayer money could be saved by consolidating unused office space, and what steps have been taken to adjust bureaucrats’ location-based salaries for those who have relocated and chosen to remain out of the office,” according to a press release issued by Ernst’s office.
Ernst has also alleged that federal employees receiving location-based pay and earning Washington, D.C. wages while living and working remotely in a lower-cost area are committing “fraud,” and warned these workers that “we’re coming after you.”
Most recently, Ernst sponsored an amendment to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act; an amendment that would require agencies receiving funding from the legislation to report to Congress on how many federal employees use telework to get higher locality pay, as FedSmith reported. The bill has passed the House and is being considered in the Senate.
Contemplating Telework’s Future
The amendment that Ernst has sponsored puts government telework under the microscope in a variety of ways. If the legislation ultimately passes, affected agencies would have 30 days from its enactment to submit a report to Congress containing a multitude of information regarding telework within their organizations, such as:
- The number of employees of the agency or department who, based upon information technology log-in information, office swipe-ins and other measurable and observable factors, 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 official worksite of the employee;
- The cost savings that would be achieved by adjusting the locality rate for employees described above to be the locality rate for the locality pay area in which the employees perform the majority of their working hours;
- The actions the agency or department has taken to audit and adjust the locality rates for employees with a telework agreement to account for the location from which the employees perform the majority of their working hours;
Whatever ultimately happens to the bill containing it, the amendment is just the latest salvo in the battle over government telework.
In January, for instance, House Oversight and Accountability Committee chair James Comer (R-Ky.) introduced a bill that would oblige federal agencies to return their pre-pandemic, largely in-person work arrangements. Comer and two of his Republican colleagues in Congress, Lauren Boebert from Colorado and Pete Sessions from Texas, reiterated that request in May, when the trio sent letters to 25 federal agencies requesting data and details on the impact of telework on government agencies’ ability to fulfill their missions.
The White House has also urged agencies to bring workers back to the office on a larger scale. For example, an Aug. 4 email from White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients directed agency heads to “aggressively execute” a shift to increased in-person work in the months ahead.
Those calling for federal workers to return to the office—either full-time or as part of a hybrid approach—have frequently cited productivity and customer service concerns. For their part, many government workers maintain that having remote work options actually boosts productivity, and surveys have shown that workers have come to expect the type of flexibility that telework affords them.
Referencing a 2023 survey that found more than 70% of 3,100 government employees saying that telework has improved their productivity “a great deal,” American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President Everett Kelley recently advised government agencies to keep such statistics in mind as they seek the right balance of in-person and remote work for their organizations.
“These civil servants show up every day to deliver government services to the American people—whether in a physical office or remotely,” Kelley said in a statement earlier this year.
“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.”
17 November 2023
HR News Article