The politics of teleworking: Dems yea, GOP nay!

Generally speaking, which is what we mostly do in Washington, Republican politicians hate it when feds work from anywhere other than their office. Democrats generally embrace teleworking and say there should be more of it.

Except, of course, for President Joe Biden, who is sort of caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place on this one! At its peak, during the worst of the pandemic, an estimated 50% of the non-postal workforce were...

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Generally speaking, which is what we mostly do in Washington, Republican politicians hate it when feds work from anywhere other than their office. Democrats generally embrace teleworking and say there should be more of it.

Except, of course, for President Joe Biden, who is sort of caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place on this one! At its peak, during the worst of the pandemic, an estimated 50% of the non-postal workforce were doing their jobs from home, or a remote site. In November 2021 36.2% of the nonpostal workforce was teleworking. During September and October of 2020 47.3% were teleworking. In early 2020, 59% of all full-timers were working from home or a remote site. Now those numbers are shrinking for a variety of reasons:

Republicans, mostly in the House, think that the vast majority of feds who are working remotely should return to the office. For lots of reasons, including making it easier for those who must deal with the public to do it face-to-face, not zoom-to-zoom. Also, many are concerned that teleworking feds aren’t spending as much — maybe nothing — as they used to in areas heavily dependent on Uncle Sam’s presence to stay afloat. Places like Virginia Beach, Virginia; San Antonio, Texas; and Ogden, Utah; where — on a percentage basis —the local federal workforce is bigger than it is in metro Washington, D.C. Although it must bother some of them to say so, they agree with President Biden, whose stated policy is to get as many feds back in the office as possible, as quickly as possible.

Democrats, also mostly in the House, think that many, if not most — if not all — feds who are currently working from home are in the right spot. They say productivity is better, traffic and air pollution are reduced, and people actually spend more time working from home now that things like dressing and traffic are not a problem. On yesterday’s Your Turn radio show, my colleague Drew Friedman, who’s been tracking the story, agreed that in Congress there is a political divide over teleworking.

Both sides have good arguments.

Somebody has got to be right. Maybe both sides. Sometimes!

Toward the end of the Trump administration, teleworking was in decline. On purpose. The White House directed a number of federal agencies to reduce teleworking agreements with unions. To have fewer people working fewer hours from home. Or end it entirely.

The pandemic, not the generosity or wisdom of Democrats, jump started teleworking. And what had been the subject of 30 plus years of wrangling happened. Almost overnight. Within a matter of months more people were working from home in one week than the total over previous decades. Teleworking — under pressure from House Democrats — was no longer a model program. Just about everybody who could do it stayed home. Questions like safety (who would pay for an in-home, on-the-clock injury, or extra phone lines) went out the window in the effort to slow and reduce the spread of COVID. It wasn’t if, but who should continue to come to the office.

The one sure thing is that both sides are correct. At times. Productivity and quality may be through the roof in many places. Sloth and doing-anything-but-work may be happening in other places.

And while the home or office debate continues, it may have triggered a trend where people pick their agency and job site based primarily on its attitude toward teleworking.

At a July 20th hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, the director of the Office of Personnel Management — a presidential appointee — said “what we are seeing is agency-hopping based on where employees see the level of flexibility. We don’t have agencies having to compete with each other for different employees within the federal government!”

Or maybe we do have a problem?

Or maybe there is a problem in government and the private sector. Particularly with younger employees with no long history of working in a 9-to-5 office environment. Who believe that line-of-sight supervision isn’t necessary. Or the best way to get the job done. So are you, or anyone you know, considering leaving your office or agency for a more friendly work-from-home situation? Or are the critics correct that the taxpayers — not only downtown merchants — have lost something since teleworking surged? Let me know at mcausey@federalnewsnetwork.com

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Daisy Thornton

Researchers have concluded that dinosaurs like T. Rex probably couldn’t stick out their tongues. They compare them to those of alligators, which are attached to the floor of their mouths. Among other things, this prevented them from biting them off.

Source: National Geographic

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