USDA, EPA increasing in-office requirements for agency managers and supervisors

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture are two of the latest to announce return-to-office plans, but the changes only apply to ag...

As agencies hammer out their return-to-office plans, many are starting with new requirements for their top leaders, managers and supervisors.

The Environmental Protection Agency, for one, announced a re-entry plan Thursday for employees in the Senior Executive Service, Senior-Level and Scientific and Professional grades. Starting August 27, the employees will be required to come to the office at least four days per two-week pay period. Political appointees at EPA are already on a 50% in-office schedule.

For the rest of EPA’s supervisors and managers, the changes will be more gradual. Starting October 8, these employees will have to come into the office at least three days per pay period. And by the end of 2023, in-office requirements for supervisors and managers will increase to four days per pay period.

EPA noted, though, that many managers and supervisors are already in the office at least this many days, and their schedules will not need to change.

The agency announced the news in an all-staff email sent Thursday obtained by Federal News Network. In the announcement, EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe said the emphasis for returning to the office will center on the idea of “meaningful” in-office work. To accomplish that, starting in October, EPA office leaders will also have to schedule “core days” in each pay period for supervisors and managers to come into the office on the same days for teambuilding, training and in-person collaboration.

The changes from EPA, along with many other agencies, come after the Office of Management and Budget this spring called on agencies to create a “work environment plan,” outlining changes to their telework policy, and detailing plans to measure productivity going forward. OMB said agencies are expected to increase “meaningful” in-person work at federal offices, especially at headquarters offices, while maintaining telework arrangements as a recruitment and retention tool.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Agency for International Development (USAID) previously announced their return-to-office plans.

At EPA, non-supervisory employees, as well as both non-bargaining unit and bargaining unit staff members, will not see any universal changes to their schedules or telework and remote work agreements.

“That doesn’t mean your schedules and telework and remote work agreements will never change,” McCabe said in the email. “You may wish to discuss changes with your supervisor, or your supervisor may need to make individual changes to agreements, but those changes must be done in accordance with bargaining agreements.”

Comments on social media showed some early positive responses to the announcement from EPA, since the changes are directed only at managers and supervisors.

“Let the managers and supervisors who make more and are supposed to oversee everything go in. Leave us be,” one Reddit user wrote.

EPA will also host refresher training courses for employees, on the agency’s current telework and remote work policies.

“We are 100% committed to our hybrid work model, with the current suite of workplace flexibilities like telework and remote work remaining intact and central to our work environment going forward,” McCabe said.

Department of Agriculture

At the Department of Agriculture, managers and supervisors will also see changes to their office schedules coming soon. Starting September 10, all USDA managers and supervisors in the National Capital Region will work in the office at least 50% of the time.

Changes for employees at USDA headquarters will similarly focus on the “meaningful” aspect of in-person work. USDA said managers and supervisors should set “core days” for employees to work in the office on the same days. Teams are expected to schedule two core days per pay period for managers and supervisors, along with one core day per pay period for all other telework eligible employees.

Since November 2021, the majority of USDA employees have been able to telework eight days per pay period, according to the agency’s workplace policy.

But USDA said a goal of the updated work environment plan is to make managers and supervisors “consistently available for in-person interactions with employees and colleagues and onsite activities.”

Moving forward, USDA plans to spend the rest of 2023 refining performance metrics, in line with the OMB memo from April. That work will help determine any further changes needed for the agency’s telework policy moving forward.

“We are continuing to make sure our department is in the strongest possible position to recruit and retain talent, deliver for our stakeholders and facilitate a positive work environment. That’s why we are taking a long-term approach to modifying our policies, beginning with some adjustments in the National Capital Region,” a USDA spokesperson said in an email to Federal News Network. “Any additional changes will be made with careful consideration of performance metrics, and in a way that gives employees sufficient time to plan for changes to their lives and daily obligations outside of work.”

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