In separate letters, two groups of senators are pushing for continuing the higher level of telework that has been in effect since March due to the pandemic as well as for additional funding for upgrades to agency IT systems.
In one letter, some two dozen senators—almost all Democrats—urged that that requirements to maintain “maximum telework” be written into a virus relief bill, saying that federal employee “have been teleworking successfully” and that any who “can perform their duties remotely should be doing so.”
“Agencies should enable telework for as many federal workers and contractor personnel as possible, and should continue to maximize telework throughout the pandemic. Telework protects not only federal employees from the spread of COVID-19, but also their families and the communities across the country in which they work,” the letter adds.
Separately, a group of six senators—all Democrats and some who joined the other letter—said that the response effort “has dramatically exposed the failures of outdated, legacy federal IT systems and shone a light on the need for agencies to more quickly modernize their networks.” They cited a report from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee that “identified multiple agencies where IT systems struggle to accommodate large percentages of teleworking federal employees, causing system problems that slow the place of normal functions like claims processing, increasing security risk, and making telework inefficient and frustrating.
“In other cases, small business owners and citizens were deeply frustrated by poorly functioning claims systems. While some federal agencies are to be commended for heroic efforts to address these challenges using small amounts of funding in the CARES Act, their individual successes highlight the scale of the remaining needs,” they said.
The letters in effect amount to an endorsement of positions the House took in passing a relief bill (HR-6800) that has been pending in the Senate since May, requiring telework unless certain standards are met and adding $1 billion to the Technology Modernization Fund.