As agencies continue to announce return-to-office plans for employees, Federal News Network is regularly updating this page. If you have a tip about an agency’s return-to-office plans, please contact us by filling out this form.
This story was last updated Sept. 13 with details from the Labor Department, and Sept. 12 with details from the State Department and the Education Department. See the chart and “Individual agency responses” section below for details.
After months of agencies announcing decreases to telework starting this fall, the Biden administration has taken a more hardline approach to office reentry.
In an Aug. 4 email sent to cabinet officials, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients said agencies should “aggressively execute” a shift toward more in-person work, beginning this September and October.
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“These changes will allow us to harness the benefits of enhanced flexibilities that we experienced during the pandemic, while ensuring we have the in-person time we need to build a strong culture, trust and interpersonal connections,” Zients wrote in an email Friday, obtained by Federal News Network, and first reported by Axios. “Newer members of our team — who will be the future leaders of our agencies — will have the face-to-face interaction critical to learning and growing, and all of us will benefit from the increases in morale, teamwork and productivity that come from in-person work.”
Importantly, Zients added, agency leaders should regularly communicate to staff members about why the changes are taking place, why in-office work matters and why this is the “right step.” He pointed to the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as two examples of agencies doing a good job communicating the importance of the changes to their teams.
“Your engagement will be critical to our success,” he said. “It will take hard work and focus to make this change, and to consistently communicate with your staff.”
Zients said agencies should “hit the ground running” in September.
These return-to-office announcements, mostly coming in one by one, do not spell a complete end to telework — agencies that have so far planned out their changes are maintaining a hybrid work environment, but decreasing telework. Most of the changes are focused on agencies’ headquarters offices.
To sort through the details, Federal News Network has made a list of what we know so far about agencies’ return-to-office changes. The list is non-exhaustive, and we will continue updating this page as we learn more.
The Labor Department has announced an in-office increase for its Senior Executive Service (SES) members, Senior Level (SL) employees, Schedule C employees, managers and supervisors.
Telework-eligible employees in the supervisory categories will be required to report to the office at least five days per pay period beginning Oct. 22, according to an all-staff email to Labor employees obtained by Federal News Network.
“I would like us to build a stronger bridge between the maximum telework required during the pandemic with an increased on-site presence in our headquarters and across the country,” Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su said in the Sept. 13 email. “In the end I want to ensure that we are using our in-person time to meaningfully facilitate the kind of collaboration, innovation and team building required to unleash the full power of the department to advance our mission.”
The department did not immediately respond to Federal News Network’s request for comment on planned changes for other non-supervisory employees. But Su said in the email that the upcoming changes will be the department’s “initial focus.”
Su said she is also asking agency heads, managers and supervisors to be more intentional about in-person work for their teams, for example, by bringing in team members on the same days and holding more in-person trainings and meetings.
While the upcoming requirements only impact certain groups, Su also noted that Labor’s current telework policies do allow first-line supervisors to make telework changes — including changes to frequency — for their employees.
“We are committed to providing as much support as possible to affected employees as we all navigate this change,” Su said.
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The State Department is telling its workforce to eventually return to the office about three or four days a week.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told employees in an all-hands email on Sept. 11 that the department is putting its return-to-office plans into focus as requested by the Biden administration.
“Ultimately, we expect most full-time employees will physically be in the office three to four times per week,” Blinken wrote.
Blinken’s message didn’t set a specific timeline for when the department will have to meet this new in-office standard.
A department spokesperson told Federal News Network on Tuesday that “leadership will roll out a detailed process and timeline for implementation in the coming weeks to the workforce.”
“President Biden has asked the federal government — and, in particular, the entire national security workforce — to assess whether we have the right balance between the imperatives of our mission and our commitment to workplace flexibility,” Blinken wrote.
Blinken said the department won’t take a “one-size-fits-all approach” on its return-to-office plans, and that leadership will keep making decisions about telework eligibility, “based on individual positions and circumstances.”
“To be clear: We’re not going to reflexively require everyone to be in the office every day,” Blinken wrote.
The department last year developed a Mobility Assessment Tool, a questionnaire that examines every position by mission or function, and comes up with a maximum telework eligibility score for each role.
The State Department has steadily brought more employees back into the office over the past two years.
Blinken said public-facing employees have been back at the office since mid-2020. That includes passport specialists, “who have worked nights and weekends to fulfill unprecedented demand.”
The Foreign Service and all the department’s overseas employees are also working in person.
The percentage of employees coming daily to the State Department headquarters building in downtown Washington, D.C. has more than doubled since 2021.
Blinken said department personnel have become adept at “Zoom diplomacy” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but added that “there are real advantages to being in person.”
“Much of our team requires regular access to classified materials, systems, and meetings. When it comes to cultivating relationships – with other governments or agencies, the private sector, or civil society – there’s no substitute for engaging face-to-face,” Blinken wrote. “And in-office interactions – collaborating on a memo, mentoring a new employee, bumping into a coworker in the cafeteria – help strengthen our culture and creativity, especially for those who have joined State in the past two years and lack a common baseline for understanding Department norms. All of these factors are critical to our ability to deliver for the American people.”
Senior executives, managers and supervisors at the Education Department are expected to return to the office at least four days per pay period starting this fall.
“Like all federal agencies, Education has been adapting to increase its in-person presence and implement return-to-facilities workforce plans,” a department spokesperson said in an email. “Throughout this process, senior leaders have been working closely with managers and supervisors to seek input from employees on ways to improve the in-person experience.”
Education declined to give Federal News Network a specific date that the changes will take effect.
And return-to-office plans for bargaining unit employees at Education are still up in the air. The spokesperson said their schedule will be determined after the agency has met all of its bargaining obligations with its union.
“The department is grateful for the service and commitment of its workforce and will continue to remain engaged with them as implementation moves forward,” the spokesperson said.
Small Business Administration
The Small Business Administration is setting a new baseline of in-office workdays for its executives and supervisors.
Starting Sept. 25, SBA will require all political appointees, members of the Senior Executive Service and senior-level staff to report to the office for at least five days per pay period.
All remaining telework-eligible SBA supervisors in the National Capital Region must report to the office for at least five days per pay period, starting on Nov. 5.
Supervisors assigned to the National Guaranty Purchase Center in Herndon, Virginia are excluded from this requirement.
SBA said in its memo to staff, obtained by Federal News Network, that more in-office days may be required, “depending on the nature of the work and operational needs.”
SBA employees with a disability that impacts their ability to report to a physical workspace can request a reasonable accommodation.
Greater in-person work, SBA wrote in its memo, “allows for increased camaraderie, improved collaboration, and the ability to leave work at the office.”
“Employees are encouraged to use their in-person time to its full potential to ensure the office and on-site worksites remain primary hubs for SBA team members to collaborate, create, build community, and care for one another,” SBA wrote.
Social Security Administration
Senior executives, managers and supervisors at the Social Security Administration will have more in-office requirements starting soon. Effective Oct. 2, senior executives stationed at agency headquarters will have to report to the office four days per two-week pay period. SSA managers and supervisors will see the same in-office requirements starting Nov. 6.
An SSA spokesperson declined to comment on why the decision was made or if there were any forthcoming plans to increase in-person work for non-supervisory and bargaining unit employees. SSA field office employees began coming to the office at least three days per week in April 2022. The American Federation of Government Employees has repeatedly called on SSA to offer more telework flexibilities to frontline agency workers.
Federal Aviation Administration
The Federal Aviation Administration is putting a temporary pause on its return-to-office plans, after unions claimed the announcement was made unilaterally, and in violation of their collective bargaining agreements.
Acting FAA Administrator Polly Trottenberg and the agency’s management board, in a message to employees sent Aug. 3, said the FAA “will immediately increase our collaboration across the agency and with our labor partners as we gather input on the business guidance for managers to use when updating telework agreements.”
“Until more work is done, we will hold on revising any current telework agreements, except where driven by immediate business needs, and in accordance with collective bargaining agreements,” the email states.
The FAA says it still plans to increase in-office work, but is working with its unions to craft guidance on its future workplace flexibilities. That includes remote work, as well as effective management of office space and a hybrid workforce.
The Interior Department is looking to bring its leadership ranks back into the office more regularly.
Interior announced that all telework-eligible senior executives, supervisors and managers in the National Capital Region will soon have to report in-person at least 50% of the time, starting Sept. 10. At the same time, non-supervisory, telework-eligible employees will remain on their current schedule of reporting to the office at least two days per pay period. The department is additionally sunsetting its pilot remote work program for senior executives, senior leaders and senior technical and professional employees.
“Implementing these changes keeps us in the strongest possible position to recruit and retain talent, to maintain a positive and inclusive work environment for all employees and to continue to deliver excellent results for our stakeholders, partners and the American people,” an Interior Department spokesperson said in an email to Federal News Network.
Office of Personnel Management
The Office of Personnel Management is another of the latest to make its in-office requirements official. All telework-eligible OPM employees with telework agreements will have to report to the office at least four days per two-week pay period, starting this fall. The change will take place in a phased approach, beginning in September, and will be fully implemented by October.
Department of Homeland Security
Some agencies have gone further in explaining their positions. For one, the Department of Homeland Security has largely left workforce policy decisions to its individual components and offices.
In a July 17 statement to Federal News Network, DHS said it was “assessing” workforce policies.
“Like other agencies, DHS is currently assessing its workforce policies to increase in-person work in order to continually improve the department’s organizational health and performance,” a DHS spokesman wrote in an email. “In order to support its diverse missions performed by 22 different component agencies and offices, DHS policy provides broad guidance on remote work and telework that is consistent with applicable laws, regulations and government-wide directives. This policy generally allows decision making on these matters to take place at the lowest local level possible by the management officials who best know the operational realities and work requirements.”
Other agencies are still figuring out their plans, too. The Education Department said it has been gathering feedback from staff about increasing in-person presence. The department is still finalizing its work environment plans, but a spokesperson said the agency “strongly believes that increasing in-person engagement will further improve the department’s problem-solving ability, provide an atmosphere for more creativity and strengthen professional relationships.”
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also still working out its work environment plans.
“We are working on how we may align our policies, including telework, in support of organizational health and performance. Right now, we are on a reentry schedule of a minimum of two days per week in the office,” EEOC spokesperson Victor Chen said.
A memo from the Office of Management and Budget in April urged agencies to increase meaningful in-office work at federal headquarters offices. The memo gave agencies an initial 30-day deadline to update their work environment plans and outline how they will measure productivity and service delivery.
OMB told agencies to increase in-person work where necessary, while still using telework as a tool for recruitment and retention. Subsequently, many agencies began announcing return-to-office plans for employees, mainly at headquarters offices.
But as OMB designated in the memo, the changes are different for each agency. Some, like the Environmental Protection Agency, have so far only mandated official changes for agency managers and supervisors.
Others, including the National Science Foundation, have received pushback from their unions, who said the announcements occurred before labor-management negotiations were complete.
At the same time, Republican leaders on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee renewed their call to agency heads to share updates on return-to-office plans. Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.), Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said it was “deeply concerning” that agencies were either withholding information on telework numbers, or simply don’t have the information on hand in the first place.
A series of letters, first sent in May, urged agency leaders to share data on telework, as well as their current telework and remote work policies.
“If federal agencies continue to withhold this information, we will resort to compulsory measures,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement Monday.
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