The House voted 221–206 on Feb. 1 to approve legislation that would roll back Federal agency telework policies to their year-end 2019 levels, and require agencies to justify any future changes in telework policies through reporting to Congress.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., introduced the legislation – the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act – on Jan. 11. The bill would “prevent the Biden administration from cementing pandemic-era telework policies for the Federal workforce until it provides Congress with a viable plan to avoid the negative impacts of remote work,” the congressman’s office said.
Cosponsors of the legislation include Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Byron Donalds, R-Fla., and Michael Cloud, R-Texas.
“This legislation is urgent – the Federal workforce needs to get back to work,” Rep. Comer said Feb. 1 on the House floor. “Federal agencies are falling short on their missions. They are not carrying out their duties. They are failing the American people.”
“The pandemic is over,” added Rep. Donalds. “It’s time for Federal employees to go back to the office.”
However, Democrats countered that employees who work remotely are still in fact working, and that telework has provided a vast number of benefits.
“We strongly oppose this bill, which is an assault on all the progress we’ve made over the last several years in telework policy,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight Committee. “Telework has strengthened private and public workplaces across the land, enhanced productivity, increased efficiency, improved the morale and satisfaction of the workforce, reduced traffic congestion, and made positive environmental changes.”
Given that Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate, and widely support expanded telework for Federal employees, the bill has a low chance of becoming law.
However, if it were to become law, the bill would direct Federal agencies to reinstate “the telework policies, practices, and levels of the agency as in effect on December 31, 2019.”
Much of the Federal civilian government workforce shifted to telework in March 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden administration then announced expanded telework options for Federal employees in June 2021, creating a huge cultural shift for the Federal government that allowed agencies to continue to offer flexible work-from-home and hybrid schedules.
Under the bill, Federal agencies would not be able to adjust telework policies from their December 2019 status unless they offered a plan to do so to Congress accompanied by a certification from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Agencies would have six months to submit to Congress studies on the impact of telework to their operations during the pandemic. Those studies would include any adverse effects on operations and mission, as well as costs to the agencies including locality rates paid to employees.
On the tech front, the reports would have to explain “the degree to which the agency failed during that expansion to provide teleworking employees with secure network capacity, communications tools, necessary and secure access to appropriate agency data assets and Federal records, and equipment sufficient to enable each such employee to be fully productive.”