DHS aims to increase in-person work while balancing ‘workplace flexibilities’

DHS wants to increase meaningful in-person work, but “the range of workplace flexibilities has, and will continue to, look differently across the department,...

Department of Homeland Security leaders are directing employees who are eligible for telework or remote work to ensure they have up-to-date agreements in place by the end of September.

In an Aug. 29 email sent to DHS employees and shared with Federal News Network, DHS Chief Human Capital Officer Roland Edwards updates the department’s workforce on the implementation of a White House push to have federal workers return to the office.

“Over the past three years, more than 60% of our workforce has continually reported in-person due to the operational nature of our diverse and vital missions,” Edwards writes. “This past year, we have also led a steady rise of non-frontline employees returning to the office and expect those numbers to continue to increase. The department’s leadership believes that continuing to increase meaningful in-person work is essential to further strengthening our organization.”

However, Edwards also points to workplace flexibilities that have been granted to many non-frontline staff. “One of DHS’ greatest strengths is the diversity of its mission and workforce,” he writes.

“The range of workplace flexibilities has, and will continue to, look differently across the department,” Edwards continues. “Accurately capturing where you perform your duties allows us to demonstrate how our important work is being accomplished while meeting both the needs of our employees and the people we serve.”

He directs employees who are eligible for remote work and telework to ensure their time card “accurately reflects whether you worked in-person at your agency worksite, you teleworked from an alternate location, or you conducted remote work.”

And by Sept. 29, Edwards directs employees to ensure they have a telework or remote work agreement in place that complies guidance issued by their agency or office.

“We know you work tirelessly day and night on behalf of the American people,” Edwards writes. “Consistent with the department’s 2023 Priorities, we are committed to balancing how we effectively execute our mission with the personal and professional needs of our workforce.”

The return-to-office message for the third largest federal agency stands in contrast to many more prescriptive plans laid out by other departments and agencies across government. And it comes after the White House recently told agencies to “aggressively execute” a shift toward more in-person work starting this fall.

DHS has largely allowed its components and offices to determine workplace requirements. As Edwards notes, many of DHS’ 250,000 employees are frontline workers who haven’t been able to telework or work remotely.

However, some DHS components have broadcast plans to bring employees who have been able to telework back to the office. The Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this summer laid out a plan to require employees to work from the office for a minimum of four days each two-week pay period.

Meanwhile, DHS is also asking for data from employees on their telework or remote work agreements as Congress begins to prod the department for more information workplace arrangements.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s report on the fiscal 2024 homeland security spending bill would require DHS to provide data “on the number and percentage of employees who are permitted to use alternative work arrangements; the average number of days per month employees used telework in [fiscal] 2023; and how alternative work arrangements have impacted productivity, including comparisons of productivity metrics for employees who telework versus report to a department facility.”

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