Republicans Renew Efforts to End Mass Telework, Call for Hearings
Maximum telework has "outlived its usefulness to protect federal employees," a group of Republicans says.
A group of House Republicans is renewing its push to get federal employees back into the office, calling for a congressional hearing to better understand why the Biden administration is allowing a large portion of the workforce to remain on telework.
The lawmakers said their offices have been inundated with phone calls from aggravated constituents seeking in-person services, such as help with Social Security benefits. The Biden administration has continued directing agencies to maximize telework as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the entire country, though some agencies have begun limited recalls of workers.
The White House, in conjunction with the Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration, released guidance in June allowing agencies to set their own caps at their workplaces. The memorandum told agencies to complete a phased plan for re-entry, create a workforce safety plan, satisfy collective bargaining obligations and provide at least 30 days of notice to employees before recalling staff. In their letter to House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the Republican members, led by Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, said that guidance did not call for extended office closures or a "shutdown of in-person services."
The maximum telework posture has “outlived its usefulness to protect federal employees and is now causing a serious strain on the American public,” the lawmakers said. They added that continuing the workplace flexibility despite the prevalence of COVID-19 vaccines is “a dereliction of duty.”
Republicans have been clamoring for months to get more federal employees to report to their normal duty stations, including calls for investigations into workers’ productivity while teleworking. The Biden administration has continued to advise agencies to make decisions based on the pandemic’s spread in local communities, and new case rates remain high throughout the country due to the spike of the Delta variant.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee's panel on Government Operations, also sent a telework letter on Tuesday, asking the Social Security Administration's inspector general to brief him on his oversight of the agency's use of remote work. Citing Government Executive’s reporting that some of the IG’s own investigators are facing discipline after a remote monitoring of employee logs found some workers were allegedly not working when they said they were, Hice asked whether the IG's findings could be "extrapolated as a model" for the rest of SSA and the federal government. He asked for a briefing about the IG's findings from its internal review monitoring employees' telework habits, with a focus on how other agencies could also track their employees remotely.
In calling for a hearing through the oversight committee, the lawmakers in their other letter said the administration had clearly created a “pathway to increased physical workplace attendance” that agencies were now ignoring. They said the hearing would help determine how many agencies submitted reentry plans—as they were required to do in July—whether teleworking employees have all the equipment and access they need and how agencies are weighing the impacts they are having on American citizens.
“The Oversight and Reform Committee must hold a hearing on the operational capacity and full reopening of agency physical locations, including satellite offices, and provide timely services to the taxpayers who support their very existence,” Fallon said. “Our federal agencies are neglecting Americans and must be held accountable.”
Maloney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
To date, the Biden administration has indicated it plans to make the flexible workplace a permanent fixture in agencies. OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said she is looking for ways to allow more federal employees to work remotely full time. In the administration’s June guidance on returning to offices, it said telework would play a larger role at agencies after the pandemic subsided. At its peak last year, about 60% of the federal workforce was working remotely.