Census Bureau rethinks scope of remote work policy, consolidates office space

The Census Bureau agreed to a remote work policy last December, and a remote work policy working group has been working on implementation details.

This week’s Federal Report is being presented in four sections looking at how certain agencies are facing the pressure for employees to return to the office more often.

The Census Bureau is looking to roll out a remote work policy it drafted at the end of last year, but is rethinking how many employees can opt in, after Congress recently set minimum utilization rates for federal buildings.

The Census Bureau agreed to a remote work policy last December, and a working group is working on implementation details.

Census Bureau Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer Ron Jarmin told employees in an all-staff email last week that once an implementation plan is finalized in the coming weeks, employees will be approved for remote work “in special situations determined by the remote work implementation working group.”

“Our policy must follow departmental and administrative guidelines and will have limits which significantly impact the number of employees who will be approved for remote work across the Census Bureau,” Jarmin wrote.

Jarmin said the bureau strongly recommends employees do not move outside the commuting area of their official duty station until they receive remote work approval.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau is reconfiguring its headquarters to bring more Commerce Department employees under one roof.

American Federation of Government Employees Council 241 President Johnny Zuagar said in an interview with Federal News Network that the Census Bureau headquarters is undergoing renovations and giving up 50% of its headquarters space to accommodate employees from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bureau’s headquarters, he added, will shift to a hoteling model following the renovations, meaning employees will have to reserve a desk for the days they plan to work in-person.

“We have done what they’re saying. We looked at our real estate, and we redid it. We have consolidated with other agencies, we are moving to smaller spaces that are at other locations. So we’re doing exactly what they’re asking,” Zuagar said. “We’re using the space efficiently and effectively. We are making adjustments. This is going to take a couple of years to know where the right balance is, but we’ll find that out.”

AFGE Council 241 Vice President Vickie Martin said Census Bureau employees who work outside the Suitland, Maryland headquarters are expected to work in the office a minimum of two days per pay period — although in-office expectations vary by position. Zuagar said some employees are working in-person every day.

Martin said the union initially expected more Census employees would be eligible to enroll in the remote work policy, but language in the fiscal 2024 spending deal set minimum occupancy requirements for federal buildings, and “handcuffed us a little bit” on the scope of remote work.

Lawmakers, in the spending deal for the rest of fiscal 2024, are requiring agencies with an office space utilization rate of less than 60% to report to Congress on their efforts to reduce their real estate footprint.

Agencies as part of the appropriations package will also have to provide information on the average number and percentage of employees working in the office during a typical two-week pay period, as well as their recent telework policies.

“We’re not going to give up on expanding that and getting further flexibilities for our people. But, we’re also not going to jeopardize what they’ve been able to gain, as far as flexibilities now,” Martin said.

A Census Bureau spokeswoman said in a statement that the bureau’s headquarters is under construction to modernize the building and bring Bureau of Labor Statistics employees into the building. During the renovations, the spokeswoman said “employees have been working under maximum telework.”

The bureau expects to reopen its headquarters building this summer.

“Employees have been notified that they will receive a 60-day notice before headquarters begins a phased reopening and will be required to comply with existing policies upon their return,” the spokeswoman said.

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