First Look

Senate bill aims to set more federal telework reporting requirements

A new bill from a pair of bipartisan Senators is calling on agencies to report more detailed, timely information on federal telework and office space.

Months of pressure from Congress on federal telework policies and return-to-office plans don’t appear to be anywhere near their end.

A pair of bipartisan senators is now looking to up the ante with a new bill, calling on agencies to report more detailed, timely information on their federal telework policies.

The Telework Transparency Act, which Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) introduced Wednesday morning, aims to provide up-to-date information on federal telework, while also assessing factors like productivity, office space, and recruitment and retention.

The telework data currently available from agencies has been a major sticking point for Congress in the return-to-office debate. The lawmakers said although the Office of Personnel Management publishes an annual report to Congress on federal telework, that data is more than a year old by the time it makes the rounds. In OPM’s yearly report, agencies often use different types of data to determine how many and how often federal employees are teleworking. Some agencies face limitations on their ability to collect accurate or complete information, according to the latest report from December 2023.

In an effort to make the telework information more consistent and reliable, the new bill from Ernst and Peters, if enacted, would set more reporting requirements for agencies. They would have to closely monitor the effects of telework on customer experience, backlogs and wait times, costs to operations, security, property management, technology investments, and recruitment and retention.

And to assist agencies with the bill’s proposed requirements, OPM would also have to set clearer data standards and protocols for agencies as they track employees’ participation in telework. Within two years of the bill’s enactment, OPM would be required to create and maintain an online tool showing agencies’ data on teleworking employees.

Under the legislation, agencies would also have to go through periodic audits of what locality-based pay rates teleworking employees receive, as well as the utilization rates of office space — both of which have remained concerns for lawmakers in the return-to-office debate.

In terms of office space, the Telework Transparency Act aims to create more consistent benchmarks for measuring utilization, something that the Government Accountability Office has said can be difficult to determine.

Ernst has long been pushing agencies for information on the costs and impacts of federal telework following the COVID-19 pandemic. Just last week, Ernst wrote a letter to Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su seeking details about a return-to-office protest of Labor Department employees.

“Since ‘temporary’ telework policies went into effect over four years ago, the remote lifestyle comes at the expense of the people federal agencies are meant to serve,” Ernst said in a statement to Federal News Network. “My bipartisan bill will provide full transparency into the inefficiencies of telework, so taxpayers are no longer on the hook for expensive wasted space at federal headquarters and misspent locality pay.”

Peters, the Democrat cosponsor for the bipartisan Telework Transparency Act, did not immediately respond to Federal News Network’s request for comment.

The federal return-to-office debate has been in full swing since the White House began pressing agencies to set higher requirements for in-office work of federal employees.

The new bill from Peters and Ernst dovetails with other efforts from Congress to get more information on federal telework. Part of the fiscal 2024 Financial Services and General Government bill set a 90-day deadline for agencies to give Congress their return-to-office “action plans” outlined earlier this year.

The action plans, initially required in an Office of Management and Budget memo from April 2023, outline agencies’ federal telework and in-office requirements, as well as measurements for workforce factors like productivity and employee engagement.

For the better part of a year, Republican lawmakers on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee have also been pushing for more details from agencies on their telework policies and return-to-office plans.


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