Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., is one of the sponsors of the bill.

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., is one of the sponsors of the bill. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Democrats Reintroduce Bill to Protect Telework at Federal Agencies Amid Coronavirus Fears

The measure would prohibit agencies from making across-the-board cuts to telework programs, and require annual goals for participation in such programs.

Three House Democrats on Thursday reintroduced a bill aimed at protecting telework at federal agencies, amid increasing calls to expand access to remote work in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; John Sarbanes, D-Md.; and Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., sponsored the Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act, which would prohibit agencies from instituting across-the-board cuts to telework programs, like those seen at the Education Department, the Social Security Administration and the Agriculture Department.

The bill also would require agencies seeking to restrict telework to provide Congress with advance notice and written justification for any proposed changes. Agencies would need to set annual goals for participation and compile a yearly report on cost savings derived from employees working remotely. The Office of Personnel Management would set uniform guidance for how agencies develop those goals and reports.

The bill was first introduced in 2018, but Congress did not act on the measure.

“In the face of the coronavirus threat, federal agencies are expected to have a robust continuity of operations plan ready for immediate activation should the outbreak threaten to interrupt essential government services,” Connolly said. “Telework is an essential tool for that response. The Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act would help expand telework participation in the federal government and reverse many of the current administration’s mindless attacks on federal telework programs.”

Although both OPM and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stressed the need for a robust telework program to maintain government operations if the coronavirus outbreak in the United States continues to worsen, several agencies at the forefront of the recent cuts to telework have been silent on the issue. OPM issued additional guidance on Tuesday stressing that agencies “must” incorporate telework as part of their continuity of operations plans and ensure as many employees as possible are “telework ready.”

“Our federal workforce performs incredibly important work on behalf of the American people—like caring for our veterans and getting Social Security checks out on time—that can’t be interrupted if an emergency like coronavirus forces these employees to stay home,” Wexton said. “Telework is not only a crucial part of every federal agency’s continuity of operations plan, but has been shown to improve employee morale, engagement and retention.”