GAO has been asked to examine the telework policies and practices agencies have used in the pandemic, with a senator on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee saying “there have been troubling reports of telework eligible employees not being permitted to telework despite guidance to maximize telework.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. made that comment in listing topics for GAO to review at a time when many agencies have been calling some employees back from telework. Federal unions and many individual agencies have argued that many agencies were slow to turn to telework—which had flattened off and was decreasing in some places before the pandemic hit—and there continue to be scattered complaints that agencies still are being too limiting.
She said that GAO should look into issues including: whether telework was limited by logistical barriers such as the availability of devices and cybersecurity infrastructure or by “cultural biases” in an agency; whether such barriers have been eliminated or remain, and what training, funding or other steps agencies believe would be needed to overcome them; how much agencies have saved in energy costs; and “to what extent were telework eligible employees not permitted to telework during the pandemic despite guidance to maximize telework.”
There has been no accounting of the number of federal employees who have been on telework status, in many cases since mid-March, but the number is believed to be in the hundreds of thousands. A House-passed relief bill, the HEROES Act, would generally require agencies to keep employees in that status until certain standards are met—and further would require agencies to set and meet goals for increasing regular telework afterward—but that bill has not advanced in the Senate.