FEMA outlines plan to bring more employees back into the office in coming months

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is planning to bring employees back to the office on a more regular basis in the coming months, Federal News Network has...

This story was updated at 11:10 a.m. on Friday, June 6 to include a statement from FEMA. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is planning to bring employees back to the office on a more regular basis in the coming months, Federal News Network has confirmed.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell notified employees on Wednesday that the agency will bring employees back to the office for a minimum of four days each two-week pay period.

“When we come together, we really have an opportunity to solve the tough problems we are being asked to solve,” Criswell told employees.

Several sources confirmed to Federal News Network that Criswell outlined her return-to-office plans for the agency’s workforce at the end of an approximately hour-long town hall with employees.

The agency’s new return-to-office requirements will go into effect 120 days after it completes negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees.

As part of these changes, FEMA said it is also lifting a temporary pause on remote work and will continue posting remote positions.

FEMA Press Secretary Jeremy Edwards confirmed Friday that agency leadership recently shared with all employees that, in the coming months, the agency will transition from two in-office days per pay period to four.

“There are no immediate changes to employee work schedules, telework agreements or current telework policies. FEMA leadership will continue to be fully transparent with our workforce throughout the process,” Edwards said.

AFGE didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

It’s not immediately clear whether FEMA’s return-to-office plans will impact only its employees in the National Capital Region, as other agencies have specified, or whether those plans will apply to its workforce nationwide.

FEMA announced its return-to-office plans several weeks after the Department of Veterans Affairs told employees in the Washington, D.C. metro area to return to the office more regularly this fall.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough, in an all-staff email sent May 24, said the department will require employees with telework agreements in the National Capital Region to work a minimum of five days in the office each two-week pay period.

McDonough told reporters following his announcement that the VA has spent months figuring out the right ratio of in-person work while keeping workplace flexibilities in place.

“We’re looking at what are the attributes of a highly effective workforce. What is the data that affirms that highly effective workforce? So we’ll be building that out between now and the fall,” McDonough said last month.

McDonough said the new in-office requirements strike a balance, and ensures VA employees are working in the office “at least as much as they’re in flexible work arrangements.”

The VA is giving its workforce advanced notice of its return to office plans to give employees time to make arrangements for family care, elder care or other personal needs.

The VA will implement the new in-office requirements in early fall, but McDonough said a specific effective date will be announced within the coming weeks, “based on our coordination with other federal agencies.”

Both FEMA and VA’s return-to-office plans adhere to guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, which issued a memo telling agencies to “substantially increase meaningful in-person work at federal offices,” particularly at the headquarters levels.

The OMB memo, however, reminds agency managers and supervisors that workplace flexibility policies remain “an important tool in talent recruitment and retention.”

OMB is defining “meaningful” work as “purposeful, well-planned and optimized for in-person collaboration,” but is giving agencies some discretion to decide their own mix of in-person and virtual work.

The Biden administration gave agencies 30 days to create work environment plans, detailing what the future of work will look like for their employees. OMB is now in the process of reviewing agencies’ plans.

The Office of Personnel Management, in an April 18 memo, told federal chief human capital officers that it was ending its “open with maximum telework flexibility” operating status that had been in place since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal News Network’s Justin Doubleday contributed to this story

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