OPM director says telecommuting flexibility is needed so agencies can compete for talent

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Written by Billy Mitchell

Federal agencies are going to have to maintain the flexibility of working from home in order to compete with the private sector — and their own counterparts in government — for the best talent in a post-COVID world, the top personnel official said Thursday. government.

Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, told House lawmakers that the federal government would not be able to compete for talent with private sector companies now codifying telecommuting flexibilities after experiencing the success during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We see this as the wave of the future in the private sector,” Ahuja testified before the House Government Operations Oversight and Reform Subcommittee. “The private sector defines these positions based on their ability to provide more flexibility in the workplace. They train their supervisors, they improve their IT. They work on all these dimensions that we want to do in the federal government so that we can compete with talent.

Competition for talent is also taking place in government, where federal workers are jumping ship to join agencies that have greater telecommuting options, Ahuja said.

“What we’re seeing is an agency leap, based on the level of flexibility that employees see,” she said. “We don’t want agencies to compete with each other for different employees within the federal government.

Jason Miller, deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, pointed out that working from home is “particularly useful [in recruiting for] jobs that are essential skills: cybersecurity, computer science, data analysis — some of these areas where some of this work can be done in a remote setting are absolutely essential.

“It’s an area where we have a consistent gap today with those sectors, with those workers across the country, including the private sector. This is a major tool to ensure that we close this gap and address it in the future. And that’s an expectation, especially for those at the start of their careers.

Ahuja believes working from home has a number of benefits – such as improved productivity, engagement, morale and business continuity, and the ability to recruit a more diverse and inclusive workforce. across the country – and said the OPM plans to provide agencies “with additional resources to chart a path forward.

However, several lawmakers, mostly on the Republican side, disagreed with Ahuja’s thoughts on telecommuting and called for data to prove its benefits, urging that federal employees are more productive when working in person and need to return. at normal, pre-COVID office levels, as President Biden suggested would be the case in his March State of the Union remarks.

“The President said in his State of the Union that federal workers were going back to work, and they haven’t,” said Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga. “In fact, telecommuting and remote work have grown, and that worries me a bit.”

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