Attention has been returning in recent weeks to agency “reentry” plans covering telework and other workplace arrangements on a long-term basis, with some signs of movement by agencies and a renewed push from some in Congress.
Those plans, which agencies were to submit to OMB by mid-July, were largely put on the back burner due to the resurgence in Coronavirus infections around the same time. Several agencies have confirmed that their schedules called for bringing back to the office more employees who have been on telework due to the pandemic starting in early fall, with phased-in increases and an expected stable ongoing state early in 2022.
With infection rates now having waned from the latest surge and increasing numbers of federal employees having been vaccinated, pressure again is building to return more teleworking employees to their regular workplaces. Several bills have been introduced in Congress and Republicans have sent several letters to the White House to that effect, citing backlogs at agencies including IRS, SSA, VA and others.
One of those, signed by nearly all Senate Republicans, said that “Businesses have now reopened, children and teachers have returned to in-person learning, and health care and public safety workers continue to show up for work. Yet we continue to hear from constituents in our states about a lack of responsiveness from federal agencies.”
They added: “In our efforts to contact more than 20 federal agencies about their plans to return to work, or even a general outline, only one agency could point to an outline of their reentry plans on their website. Others have either cited ongoing negotiations with their unions or said they had no plan to share with our offices at this time. This lack of transparency is a disservice to the taxpayers that these agencies were created to support and protect.”
Meanwhile, the SSA—which has been a particular focus due to its restrictions on public access to its offices—recently issued a reentry plan containing many specifics, including a return to the office of senior leaders starting December 1 and a broader return starting January 3. It sets a general schedule of numbers of days of allowable telework by operating component, including full-time in some cases, which is to be reevaluated after six months.
The Agriculture Department has set a similar schedule, with the same dates as SSA, adding that it expects to be settled into a long-term posture by March 14.
Separately, the AFGE union has announced an agreement with the Education Department in which eligibility was expanded for both telework and remote work—in which the employee is not expected to report to an agency worksite on a regular basis—and providing for more flexibility in hours for alternative working schedules.