“Maximizing telework is a no brainer," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

“Maximizing telework is a no brainer," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Lawmakers Revive Bipartisan Push for Maximum Telework at Agencies

The Pandemic Federal Telework Act would require agencies to allow all telework-eligible employees to work remotely for the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency.

As some federal agencies move toward bringing some of their employees back to the office, a bipartisan group of senators have introduced legislation that would halt those plans.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., James Lankford, R-Okla., and Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., on Monday introduced the Pandemic Federal Telework Act (S. 4518), which would require agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal employees to work remotely for the duration of the coronavirus national emergency.

The bill also requires agencies to determine which workers not currently eligible for telework could be made telework-eligible, although it allows agency heads to waive those requirements and call employees to work if there is a “compelling reason” to do so.

The legislation requires the executive branch to develop a plan to maximize telework in the event of a future public health emergency, and it requires that managers, supervisors and political appointees receive training on managing a remote workforce within 180 days of assuming a position with responsibility for managing a teleworking employee. It also states that agencies may tap the Technology Modernization Fund to pay for activities that facilitate telework.

Van Hollen said agencies should continue to employ maximum telework to protect federal employees and the public, particularly given its efficacy in recent months. After the initial hurdle of moving to a remote office environment, many agencies have reported an increase in productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Federal employees serve our country and our constituents day in and day out,” Van Hollen said. “Maximizing telework is a no brainer—it keeps employees on the job while also keeping them safe and healthy and reduces the spread of the virus in our communities. This is the best way to keep workers safe so they can continue providing vital services to the American people during this difficult time.”

Lankford, who recently suggested that the government could benefit from increasing the use of telework even after the pandemic has subsided, said it is important for federal employees to have “clarity” on their ability to continue working remotely.

“Last week, I chaired a subcommittee hearing to learn best practices and valuable insights from the private sector who have utilized telework both before and during the pandemic,” Lankford said. “Their insight was incredibly valuable as the federal government continues to function with many federal employees in full-time telework status. I look forward to utilizing what we’ve learned and recommended to increase the availability and security of federal teleworking through this crisis and when we are finally past this crisis.”