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The Latest on Agencies’ Return-to-Office Plans

A look at agencies’ various approaches to getting employees back to their worksites; this list will be updated periodically.

Federal agencies are taking a variety of approaches to bringing employees back into offices at least part time, even as their efforts have been complicated by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Agencies were required to submit their reentry and post-reentry plans to the Office of Management and Budget by July 19, which was shortly before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its mask guidance for individuals vaccinated against COVID-19, due to the spread of the Delta variant. President Biden announced on July 29 federal employees must attest to being vaccinated or submit to frequent testing and then on September 9, took even stricter measures to contain the spread of the virus, issuing a vaccine mandate with exemptions only for medical or religious purposes. 

Government Executive recently reached out to the major agencies about their return-to-office dates and the following are the responses received. This list will be updated periodically as more information is available. 

Environmental Protection Agency: “EPA has not announced a return to office date. The agency will provide 45 days’ notice before employees return to in-person work,” said an agency spokesperson. 

Initially, EPA had told employees they would be returning to the office no sooner than November 7, but then they received an email on September 22 saying that due to the Delta variant and Biden’s vaccine mandate, the date would be adjusted, an EPA employee told Government Executive. 

General Services Administration: “A number of onsite GSA employees never stopped performing mission-critical and essential services to our federal partners,” said Christina Wilkes, GSA press secretary. “Our goal of delivering the best possible services to our partner agencies continued. Reentry steps will begin later this year, and all employees by January 4, 2022, will be working under new schedules that include either in-person reporting, hybrid work that is a mix of in-person work and telework, or remote work agreements.” 

Housing and Urban Development Department: “We are engaged in an inclusive, participatory process regarding what HUD’s workplace will look like moving forward,” said a HUD spokesperson. “Our work will be shaped by the values of health, safety, and well-being of HUD employees; achieving HUD’s mission, effectively, efficiently, and equitably; the health and safety of HUD’s ultimate clients – people served by our programs; responsiveness to HUD’s grantees and external stakeholders; and staff morale, retention, and attracting talent.”

Labor Department: A Labor spokesperson outlined the following time frame for return to office: 

  • Phase 0: This is the current state, with up to 25% occupancy for mission-critical work that can’t be done on a telework site.
  • Phase 1: No earlier than January 3, 2022, with up to 50% occupancy for mission critical functions or functions that must be done on site or are better done on site.
  • Phase 2: No earlier than February 2, 2022, with up to 75% occupancy for any positions based on the agency’s discretion. 
  • Phase 3: No earlier than March 7, 2022, with up to full occupancy for positions up to discretion. 

NASA: “The safety of NASA’s workforce continues to be the agency’s top priority,” said a NASA spokesperson. “At this time, NASA has not publicly stated a date for increased reentry.”

National Archives and Records Administration: “NARA plans to begin returning staff to a hybrid workplace on October 18, 2021,” said the agency. “Employee reentry is subject to local public health conditions. NARA will make more limited returns to the physical workplace in localities that are experiencing high COVID-19 transmission levels. We have expanded telework eligibility for all NARA staff and many work units will operate on a hybrid on-site / telework basis.”

State Department: “Beginning November 1, domestic employees may be required to perform onsite work based on job requirements and office needs, in line with the department's Workplace Safety Plan and COVID-19 Mitigation Process,” said a State Department spokesperson. “We expect that our re-entry plan will result in a gradual increase in onsite presence over time based on mission needs and assessment of local conditions.” 

Since the pandemic is continuously evolving, the department will be monitoring conditions as the date gets closer and will adjust if needed, the spokesperson added.

U.S. Agency for International Development: “The agency remains in a maximum telework posture, with a 20% occupancy cap in domestic facilities and no expected change to operating status prior to the reentry schedule,” said a USAID spokesperson. “In preparation for reentry, the agency is pursuing a ‘Reentry Readiness’ approach.”

The department’s Reconstitution Team (which involves stakeholder officers and the agency’s designated continuity coordinators) meets regularly to “assess and address the various risks, challenges, and logistical hurdles and to ensure the agency is aligned and prepared for a smooth and efficient reentry,” said the spokesperson, “USAID will provide a minimum of 30 days’ notice to our workforce before commencing reentry. At this time, USAID has not announced a reentry date to our workforce.”

Veterans Affairs Department: “Much of the VA workforce (more than 350,000 out of approximately 400,000) remains actively engaged with our customers providing onsite support,” said a department spokesperson. “An increased percentage of employees shifted to telework and remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic without degradation to the mission.”

The department “remains in a maximum telework status keeping employee safety at the forefront. No public date has been set to change this status,” the agency stated. “VA continues the process of revising its COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan to comply with the updated Safer Federal Workforce Task Force model safety principles. VA will follow Office Management and Budget guidance memoranda M-21-15 and M-21-25 in planning for a safe increased return of federal employees and contractors to physical workplaces.”

The Small Business Administration and Education Department declined to comment. The Internal Revenue Service referred questions to the Treasury Department, which did not respond for comment. 

There are over 2 million federal employees nationwide, in addition to millions of contractors, many of whom work on federal sites. Some federal employees have returned to their worksites already, at least part-time.