House panel advances legislation encouraging telecommuting in agencies

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The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted 23 to 17 on Wednesday to advance legislation to strengthen the federal government’s approach to telecommuting on the House floor for consideration.

The Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act (HR 7951), introduced by Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and John Sarbanes, D-Md., would require agencies to provide 30 days notice to Congress and the Bureau of Personnel Managing any action that would reduce federal workers’ access to telecommuting, as well as expanding data collection on telecommuting, particularly its cost and environmental benefits.

The bill also empowers the OPM to develop standards for the collection and use of agency telework data, develop training for supervisors and managers on telework-related issues, and issue new guidance on how agencies should manage their telecommuting programs.

Connolly argued that laws governing telecommuting within the federal government need an update to incorporate what agencies have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and said expanded permanent telecommuting programs would improve continuity of agency operations and help recruit the next generation of federal public servants. workers.

“The pandemic will hopefully not last forever, and the federal government will not maintain a pandemic-level telecommuting posture in perpetuity,” Connolly said. “But we cannot ignore the hard lessons this pandemic has taught us. The increased need and demand for telecommuting among federal employees and the national workforce is expected and will persist. . . To remain competitive, the federal government must keep pace with the private sector. Telecommuting saves money, helps recruit top talent, is environmentally friendly, and provides continuity of agency operations that families, businesses, and veterans can rely on every day.

But Republicans on the committee argued that a large number of telecommuting federal employees had led to increased service backlogs at agencies including the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service and Department of Veterans Affairs. Instead, they said, agencies should immediately return to pre-pandemic telecommuting levels until they can “prove” that any increases will only increase productivity.

“Our approach brings federal employees back to their offices until we understand and correct the adverse effects of extended telecommuting,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., a ranking member of the committee. “The Biden administration, however, doubled down on expanded telecommuting without addressing the issue. The administration’s priority is to provide federal workers with a shiny new benefit, not to improve the performance of the agency’s mission.

Connolly responded by pointing out that Democrats recognize that many federal jobs require in-person work and argued that the problem with rising backlogs during the pandemic was not because of telecommuting, but rather because employees don’t were unable to do this work safely due to the transmission of COVID-19[FEMININE

“Les plaintes concernant certaines agences fédérales qui ne traitent pas les arriérés ou ne traitent pas le service client ne sont pas à cause du télétravail, elles sont à cause de quelque chose appelé COVID-19”, a-t-il déclaré. “Des personnes sont mortes. C’est une chose d’exprimer des inquiétudes quant aux opérations d’une agence fédérale, mais lorsqu’il y a eu un projet de loi appelé Chai Act, du nom de mon électeur décédé des suites de la COVID en raison d’un manque de protocoles sur le lieu de travail, ce projet de loi a été bloqué. [passing by] suspension [of the rules] upstairs across the aisle. You can’t have it both ways: you can’t complain that they’re not open and then do nothing to make sure they’re safe.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, proposed an amendment that would have barred federal employees who telecommute at least three days a week from receiving locality pay.

“[For federal teleworkers whose offices are in Washington, D.C.], if they work from home four days a week, taxpayers have to pay up to $40,000 a year per employee, even if the employee chooses to live in a lower-cost part of the country,” Biggs said. “As bureaucrats work from home as backlogs on their official worksites continue to pile up, we want to make sure taxpayers get what they pay for.”

According to OPM guidelines released last fall, telecommuting federal employees must report to their traditional work site at least twice per pay period in order to be eligible for locality pay tied to that region’s region. site. Remote workers, who do not regularly travel to a traditional agency establishment, still receive locality pay, although it is tied to their home and not the location of an agency establishment.

Connolly was enraged by Biggs’ proposal, which he called “punitive”, and decried the rhetoric underlying his argument.

“Even the language used by my friend from Arizona is pejorative,” he said. “’They don’t really work if they’re not physically there. They are bureaucrats, not public servants serving our constituents . . . I was the president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments after 9/11, and the attack on the Pentagon was the second worst terrorist incident in American history. I lost voters that day. We had to figure out what you do, how do you run the government when they can’t physically go to work? And you know what the answer was: a vigorous telecommuting program, and that was 22 years ago. Are we retreating back into the cave like none of this happened? »

Biggs’ amendment failed by a vote of 16 to 22. The bill is now before the floor for consideration by the full House.

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