Democratic House members introduced legislation Thursday to protect and expand the use of telework at federal agencies, partly in response to recent policies to limit the practice at the Education and Agriculture departments.
The Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act introduced by Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and John Sarbanes, D-Md., would prohibit agencies from instituting agency-wide restrictions on how frequently employees use telework. It would require agencies to notify both the Office of Personnel Management and Congress of any plans to reduce telework going forward, coupled with a justification for the change.
It also would require agencies to set annual goals for telework participation. In fiscal 2017, the Health and Human Services, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development departments did not submit any goals for telework participation. OPM would need to improve reporting of the cost savings associated with telework, as well as establish a plan to maintain or increase governmentwide telework participation from the fiscal 2016 level of 22 percent.
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Earlier this year, the Agriculture and Education departments both dramatically cut allowable telework from what was effectively full time to about one day per week. Those actions attracted outcry from federal employee unions and members of Congress. In May, Connolly threatened Agriculture officials with “legislative metrics” if they did not reverse the decision, which reportedly was made after Secretary Sonny Perdue could not find an employee who had been working remotely.
In a statement Thursday, Connolly said agencies must reverse course and work to foster telework, a program that OPM has cited as a way to improve employee morale and work-life balance.
“Instead of instituting mindless, sweeping bans on telework participation, agencies should be expanding telework options,” he said. “Telework is supposed to be a tool for promoting government efficiency, performance and emergency preparedness.”
Sarbanes said telework also provides significant cost savings to agencies that no longer need to provide as much office space for employees.
“Federal government telework programs not only improve productivity, but also save taxpayer money by increasing efficiency, strengthening employee retention and reducing costs for federal office space, as numerous studies have demonstrated,” he said. “We must push back against the Trump administration’s repeated attacks on federal telework programs, which make our government work better for the American people.”
National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon announced his union’s support for the legislation in a statement.
“Telework is a smart, progressive workplace policy that increases productivity, cuts administrative costs and is frequently cited as a factor in retaining highly trained employees,” Reardon said. “Rep. Connolly and Rep. Sarbanes, who represent thousands of federal employees, know first-hand the value of teleworking and how it improves the quality of life for employees and taxpayers alike, and we applaud their legislation that would help preserve it.”