Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., is one of the senators calling on Trump to issue an executive order.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., is one of the senators calling on Trump to issue an executive order. Jose Luis Magana/AP

Lawmakers Urge Mandatory Telework, and OPM Highlights Defense Policy Act Pay Provisions

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of Congress this week are urging President Trump to sign an executive order mandating that federal employees work remotely to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

On Monday, 27 senators, led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., asked Trump to issue an order “immediately” to force agencies to mandate telework for as many employees as possible, arguing that the various memos from both the Office of Personnel Management and Office of Management and Budget have not been forceful enough to provoke agencies to act.

“Voluntary guidance is not enough—agencies need clear orders,” the senators wrote. “In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and we hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in our states on a daily basis.”

The senators said that the president should order agencies to immediately allow for full time telework by most federal employees that are already eligible to work remotely, and to approve as many people not currently eligible for telework as possible for the program.

“Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government,” they wrote. “You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions.”

More than 60 House Democrats on Tuesday went further with their proposed executive order. In a letter to Trump led by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., they pushed for the order to mandate telework for federal contractors as well.

“With 2.1 million federal employees across the globe, 300,000 federal employees in the National Capital Region, and hundreds of thousands of federal contractors around the country, the federal government can help curtail the number of individuals potentially spreading COVID-19 through an immediate telework mandate,” House Democrats wrote. “[We] are concerned, however, by reports from constituents that some federal supervisors continue to deny telework requests from federal employees and federal contractors who have the capacity to telework and can [do] so while supporting agency mission-critical operations.”

On Tuesday night, OMB issued another set of guidance, calling on agency heads to expand telework, “minimize face-to-face interactions,” and reprioritize non-mission critical work.

Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management on Tuesday highlighted a number of minor pay and benefits changes included as part of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. In what might be the final public memo before she resigned abruptly Tuesday night, Director Dale Cabaniss highlighted a number of provisions that were renewed for another year.

The Reserve Income Replacement Program, in which the government covers lost revenue when a reservist experiences “extended and frequent mobilization” to active duty, was extended until the end of 2020. The program does not apply to federal employees who are already entitled to a reservist differential.

Additionally, agency heads again received the authority to grant allowances, benefits and other bonuses to feds who are on official duty in a combat zone until September 2021. And the provision was renewed until December 2020 allowing agency heads to waive the premium pay cap for federal workers who are detailed overseas in a location that is the responsibility of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Africa Command.