Fedweek

Two key Republicans in Congress have renewed their calls on the Biden administration to return more teleworking federal employees to their workplaces, citing the administration’s data showing high rates of vaccination in the federal workforce against the Coronavirus.

Many Republicans—and some Democrats—in Congress have been raising concerns for months about lower levels of personal service at the IRS, SSA and other public-facing agencies, as well as backlogs of tax returns, passport applications, VA benefits claims, and requests of military records needed for those claims.

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The latest came from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who said the “administration’s ‘maximum telework’ edict is not working for the American people . . . The efficiency of a federal agency must be directly measured by its ability to serve our citizens, and recent data proves that many agencies are failing to do so.”

He said that the administration’s recent guidance that projects telework will remain higher long-run than pre-pandemic levels, sees off-site work “as a solution to the very problems it has created for many Americans” and that “instead of focusing on how the federal workforce can better function in the future, it is critical that your agencies focus on the issues here and now,” he wrote to OPM and OMB.

He asked why the government remains in maximum telework status given data showing that all but about 3 percent of federal workers are deemed in compliance with the vaccination mandate, including those with pending requests for exceptions for religious or medical reasons. Even if those request are denied, the employees will be eligible to work at their regular sites, although subject to stricter safety protocols and testing.

He also asked for information including how many federal employees currently are teleworking, whether agencies will make their reentry plans public, and how agencies have been monitoring the productivity of teleworking employees.

The ranking Republican on the House government operations subcommittee, Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, earlier had made similar comments at a hearing, saying that “the lack of in-person service during the pandemic has created real problems” and citing a Defense Department IG report raising security concerns related to employees using unauthorized video conferencing applications and personal equipment.

Several agencies including the SSA meanwhile have said they expect to begin carrying out after the turn of the year their “reentry” plans, which call for a return of more teleworking employees to worksites. The plans had been drafted last summer with a starting date in early fall but were stalled by a resurgence of infections at the same time.

The relatively few that have been disclosed publicly do not call for an immediate general return the office, though, but rather a phased in process of increasing numbers of employees coming off telework over a number of months.

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Separately, nearly 100 House Republicans have written to the IRS asking about its plans to address the backlog of tax returns with the next filing season just ahead, including “what steps the IRS is taking to bring employees back” to their regular worksites.

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