Fedweek

As may be expected, more federal employees are now formally considered eligible to telework, according to OPM data that however show that the increase is smaller than might be expected, of 2 percentage points.

OPM recently started reporting telework eligibility data in its quarterly statistics on the federal workforce, with June 2020 as a baseline. At that time, the database of executive branch employees—excluding the Postal Service and intelligence agencies—showed that 43 percent of the 2,097,000 employees were telework-eligible.

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The June 2021 figures show that 45 percent of the 2,189,000 employees are telework-eligible—in numeric terms, an increase of 56,000 to 992,000. Much of that increase occurred at DoD—the Army, Navy and Air Force collectively show an increase of about 30,000 among their civilian employees—and at the VA, with an increase of about 17,000.

Eligibility for telework has been a long-running issue. Despite encouragement from OPM to have agencies designate more employees as eligible for continuity of operations and other reasons, before the pandemic many employees complained that their jobs would lend themselves to telework but management resisted.

In the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted last fall, employees reported that at the peak of telework last year, 78 percent of employees teleworked at least occasionally—far above the percentage formally deemed eligible then, or now. While the numbers have fallen since then, there is no government-wide count of current teleworking.

Biden administration guidance states that employees who were allowed to telework due to the pandemic should be deemed as eligible moving forward. That has not been put to the test, though, as agency “reentry” plans that had anticipated recalling more teleworkers to onsite work starting around now are up in the air. Those plans were written under guidance issued at a time of declining infections, a trend that reversed soon afterward.

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