First Look

More House appropriators target federal telework, office space

The 2025 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill includes language specifically targeting federal telework reporting requirements.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated June 28 at 9:23 a.m. with comments from the National Treasury Employees Union.

As House appropriators work through fiscal 2025 spending legislation, some lawmakers are digging in even further on federal telework and agencies’ return-to-office policies.

The 2025 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill, which the GOP-led subcommittee advanced this week, includes language specifically targeting teleworking federal employees.

Report language accompanying the bill, which staff members for Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) shared with Federal News Network, would set new requirements for agencies to publicly report their policies on federal telework and office space.

“Federal employees are consistently abusing work-from-home policies within their respective agencies,” Aderholt wrote in a statement to Federal News Network. “Federal agencies that provide direct service to the public must return to work to better serve the American people. Telework should be judged solely on a case-by-case basis, not blanket policies.”

If enacted, the bill would require agencies to publicly share their office space utilization rates in the D.C. area, as well as the methodology they used to calculate those rates. Agencies would have 90 days to get the information online — and would have to update the data quarterly.

Office space utilization has remained a major challenge for agencies for years. The Government Accountability Office has said agencies currently have a unique opportunity to right-size their office holdings, now in a hybrid work environment.

Still, the lawmakers said they remain concerned with what they said is a lack of federal employees reporting to work in-person.

“A lack of in-office presence is particularly problematic for agencies whose mission involves direct service to the public,” subcommittee leaders wrote in the bill’s report.

The subcommittee’s report language also zeroes in on requirements for the specific agencies the legislation covers, including the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the Education Department. The lawmakers are eyeing a 60-day deadline for those agencies to report how many employees are receiving D.C. locality pay, but who have not worked in-person in a D.C. office more than one day per week in the past year.

“Excessive abuse of telework across the federal government must end,” the subcommittee wrote. “Approvals for remote work should be made on an individual case-by-case basis and done only to serve the best interests of the program and the American public. The committee urges the secretary to bring federal employees back to the workplace to fulfill the mission of serving the American public.”

The bill would also reduce administrative funding, “considering the remote work abuse seen at several agencies,” the subcommittee wrote.

Federal unions such as the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union have repeatedly pushed back on the calls to return federal employees to the office full-time. Union leaders have said federal telework options and other workplace flexibilities are crucial for recruiting and retaining the future federal workforce.

“We maintain a simple position — that telework and remote work policies should be tailored to the specific needs of the agency and the nature of the work, rather than pursuing a one-size-fits-all approach for the whole of government through legislation,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley wrote in a statement to Federal News Network.

NTEU National President Doreen Greenwald called for the appropriations committee to work on funding agencies, rather than targeting telework policies for the federal workforce.

“The more telework an agency is able to grant, the less office space taxpayers need to pay for, as proven by some agencies who have already started to downsize and save money,” Greenwald wrote in a statement. “It is time to accept the data that telework works and focus on funding the government, so it has the resources to properly deliver for the American people.”

AFGE pointed to a recent study from the Congressional Budget Office that found federal employees, on average, are working remotely less often than private sector employees. Regarding office space utilization, AFGE said it has no objections to the idea of agencies letting go of physical space they don’t need.

“We should be clear about the facts,” Kelley wrote. “As [the Office of Personnel Management] has stated to Congress in a recent hearing, 54% of the federal workforce never worked remotely a single day — including during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature of their work does not allow it. These are people like nurses, correctional officers, border patrol agents, transportation security officers and many others.”

“The fact is that hundreds of thousands of employees who have public-facing duties, like screening cargo and protecting the ports, maintaining the National Parks or meeting with taxpayers to deliver government services report to the workplace every day,” Greenwald added. “Those who are telework-eligible perform the same duties at their telework location as they would while in a traditional workplace. Telework has been around for decades and is subject to strict oversight and management approval.”

The committee’s report language, though, isn’t the only instance of House appropriators targeting federal telework and calling for a large-scale return to the office. In the House’s 2025 defense appropriations bill, for instance, lawmakers included a provision that would, if enacted, severely restrict federal telework and remote work options for civilian DoD employees.

The provision would effectively ban telework for the DoD civilian workforce by prohibiting any government funds from going toward “the costs of teleworking or remote working” for “any employee or contractor of the Department of Defense on a regular and recurring basis,” the House committee wrote in report language last week.

The return-to-office push began in part with an April 2023 Office of Management and Budget memo, which told agencies to bring telework-eligible employees into the office for at least 50% of their work hours.

The Biden administration has said a majority of agencies have, by now, completed the required return-to-office changes. OMB Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller told the House Oversight and Accountability Committee in April that agencies would be held accountable for fully implementing the 50% in-the-office presence.

Still, Aderholt and other appropriations committee members are pushing for an even larger in-office presence of the federal workforce.

“I urge the secretaries of these agencies to bring federal employees back to the workplace immediately so that the American people can be served in a way they deserve,” Aderholt wrote. “Simply put, it’s time to get back to work.”

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    Congress,

    Congressional regulators want to know why a top official at the FCC was able to support what appears to be a Trump campaign initiative

    Read more
    Election 2024 Trump

    House Oversight panel subpoenas Secret Service director to testify on Trump assassination attempt

    Read more