Friday marked the final day of a six-year-old telework pilot program for roughly 12,000 employees of the Social Security Administration’s operations agencies, after Commissioner Andrew Saul summarily ended it.
A cadre of high-ranking House Democrats on Thursday demanded information about why the Social Security Administration decided to end a six-year-old telework pilot program for employees in the agency’s operations divisions, leaving around 12,000 workers scrambling to make alternate arrangements.
Last month, Social Security Administrator Andrew Saul announced that he would end the long-running work-life program, citing a desire to improve customer service and noting that wait times for assistance on the agency’s 800-number exceed 20 minutes. Although the program initially was slated to end Nov. 8, the agency delayed that until Friday, so that employees would have additional time to make arrangements.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents operations staff at Social Security, has objected to the program’s end, which was announced one day after a Federal Service Impasses Panel-imposed union contract was implemented. Officials pointed to a 2017 inspector general’s report that found that while telework was slightly detrimental at field offices, the program actually improved productivity for employees servicing the agency’s 800 number.
In a letter Thursday to Saul, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Chairwoman Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Ways and Means subcommittee chairmen Reps. John Larson, D-Conn.; John Lewis, D-Ga.; and Danny Davis, D-Ill., demanded an explanation for the agency’s actions, citing the Telework Enhancement Act and an Office of Personnel Management report encouraging agencies to implement the practice.
“While the SSA Operations Telework Pilot has existed for nearly six years, SSA apparently did not adequately evaluate the pilot and has not articulated its future plans for telework,” the lawmakers wrote. “Management’s failure to properly evaluate telework performance metrics while it was in a pilot phase should not be the rationale for suspending telework in its entirety.”
Democrats instructed Social Security to provide the rationale for ending the program, as well as what the agency has done to address the concerns of employees affected by the change. They also asked the agency how it plans to measure the impact of ending telework on productivity and customer service.