The federal government is actually trying to increase flexibility after seeing the impacts of remote work during the pandemic.
The delta variant is fueling COVID-19 case spikes nationally, including in the Washington, D.C., area. But one House Republican thinks this is the time to force federal workers to go back into the office.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) filed a bill on Friday called the "Return Act." If enacted, it would mandate that all federal agency heads "require the level of telework of employees of the agency to return to the level of telework of those employees on February 14, 2020," before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States.
To date, no other members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors.
More than 2 million civilians work for the federal government, according to the Office of Personnel Management. Since last March, much of that workforce has been remote to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
After months of decline, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationally and in the Capitol region have increased significantly since mid-July. Many businesses are delaying a return to in-person work as a result.
Indeed Crenshaw's own employer, the House of Representatives, announced on Aug. 13 that it will continue to allow members to work remotely and cast their votes by proxy until at least early October.
Last May, when the Democratic majority adopted the remote option, Crenshaw railed against it.
"This is no joke, even though it sounds like one: Democrats just passed a bill to do proxy voting. They don’t want to work," he tweeted. "They don’t believe in leading from the front. If Democrats want to telework, help them find new jobs in November. Because they shouldn’t be in Congress."
But on six separate occasions since the start of 2021, he has taken advantage of the system himself, designating a colleague as his proxy "due to the ongoing public health emergency." Most recently, he filed a proxy letter on July 30 that was still active at the time he filed the bill.
A Crenshaw spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.
But his attempt to make teleworking as limited as it was pre-pandemic is the opposite of what the federal government is hoping to do. In July, the Office of Personnel Management announced new guidance to encourage more telework and remote work flexibility. The new "maxiflex" was designed to build off of what worked well during the pandemic closures:
In light of the steps agencies undertook at the outset of the pandemic, OPM expects that many more Federal employees will be eligible to telework on a regular basis post-reentry. Agencies should start re-assessing schedules for and frequency of telework, based upon the experiences of the last 15 months, and re-establish them in a way that best meets mission needs (including the agency’s ability to compete for qualified candidates and retain talent). Supervisors may see mission delivery, productivity, or employee engagement benefits in extending flexibilities related to telework and alternative work schedules.
According to Government Executive, the administration saw both increased employee engagement and increased productivity during the pandemic as workers did their jobs remotely.
Human resources expert Jeff Neal praised the new maxiflex approach in an Aug. 2 Federal News Network commentary, writing that it is "a great step in making telework available to more people and offering a benefit that many employees are demanding. It has the potential to make the federal government a more reasonable employer in a labor market that is becoming far more competitive. That is a good thing."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.