Fedweek

fedweek.com: congress telework coronavirus Washington DC, Mar 9 2020: A sign regarding coronavirus is posted on the office door of Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-NJ, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Image: Laurie Kellman/AP/Shutterstock

Legislation (HR-6108) newly offered in the House seeks to expand the availability of telework for federal employees, with sponsors saying that the Coronavirus threat makes it all the more important for agencies to make remote work available as much as possible.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Connolly, chair of the House subcommittee on the federal workforce, would require agencies to report to Congress and justify any new restrictions on telework as agencies including Agriculture, Education, SSA and other agencies have imposed over the last two years.

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The measure would require agencies to instead set annual goals to increase participation in telework in the separate categories of three or more days per pay period, one or two days per pay period, once per month, and on an as-needed basis. Agencies also would have to report on their telework programs, including savings, in more detail, with OPM to issue guidance on collecting that data and setting goals.

“As we face a serious public health emergency through the spread of the coronavirus, along with many other 21st-century challenges, we must use every tool at our disposal – especially proven and effective programs, like federal telework – to ensure continuity of operations and effective government service,” sponsors said in introducing the bill.

OPM’s most recent report on telework, covering fiscal 2017 showed a decline in participation from the prior year even before the recent cutbacks at several major agencies.

The report showed that 43 percent of non-postal employees were deemed telework-eligible, up one percentage point from 2016 but still below the 47 percent of 2012. The percentage of those eligible who actually teleworked at least once during the year had risen steadily from 2012’s 29 percent to 51 percent in 2016, before falling to 48 percent in 2017. In terms of the entire workforce, that was a decline from 22 to 21 percent after rising from 14 percent in 2012.

Separately, the leading Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, which oversee the SSA, urged that agency to reverse the restrictions it imposed on telework in several offices, including most recently in its office of hearings operations.

“All federal agencies should have contingency plans in place in order to continue serving their customers and fulfilling their mission while keeping their employees and the American public as safe as possible. If SSA had a robust telework program, SSA would be well positioned to continue many public-serving operations while employees worked from home,” they wrote.

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