A running list of agencies’ return-to-office plans

Federal News Network is compiling a list of agencies that have so far made return-to-office announcements for their employees. The list will be regularly refres...

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.

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This story was last updated on March 13 with changes from the Education Department, and on March 8 with changes from the Interior Department. See the chart and “Individual agency responses” section below for details.

White House says agencies are ‘not where they need to be’ with return-to-office plans

Many agencies began implementing their planned decreases to telework in fall 2023. But left unsatisfied, the Biden administration has taken a more hardline approach to office reentry.

White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients told agency heads that some are “not where they need to be” on office reentry.

“I ask that you double down on your leadership to increase in-person work, especially at a time where the service of you and your team has never been more important,” Zients said in a Jan. 19 email to cabinet officials, obtained by Federal News Network.

A few agencies, however, have surpassed the administration’s 50% in-person goal for feds, Zients said. He named the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Energy, Defense, State, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as exemplars of exceeding return-to-office requirements.

The latest push follows an Aug. 4, 2023 email Zients sent to cabinet officials, in which he said agencies should “aggressively execute” a shift toward more in-person work beginning in September and October 2023.

“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 the August 2023 email 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.”

“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 have first “hit the ground running” in September 2023.

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.

Individual agency responses

Updated 3/13: Education Department

Starting April 22, all non-bargaining unit employees, supervisors, managers and executives at the Education Department will have to work on-site at least five days per pay period — an increase from the agency’s current policy of four in-person days per pay period.

In an all-staff email, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the changes reflect a need for “increased collaboration and innovation to solve complex problems, enhance capabilities, increase efficiency and improve processes.”

“The department is working to continuously align our policies with overarching federal guidance and operate within the fiscal constraints we are facing,” Cardona said in the March 12 email, obtained by Federal News Network.

Cardona said he recognized an increase to in-person work may affect daily commutes, child care arrangements and other personal factors — and that it may take time to adjust. But he said he believed the change would be a benefit to the agency in the long run.

“I believe increasing our in-person presence will foster an even greater sense of solidarity, teamwork and allow for more spontaneous idea-sharing, collaboration and problem-solving conversations,” Cardona said.

So far, there have not been any changes for bargaining unit employees at Education. An agency spokesperson previously told Federal News Network that any schedule updates for unionized employees will be determined after the agency has met all of its bargaining obligations.

“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.

Prior to the March announcement, senior executives, managers and supervisors at the agency returned to the office at least four days per pay period beginning in fall 2023.

“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 last fall. “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.”

Updated 3/8: Interior Department 

The Interior Department is expanding its return-to-office policy, Federal News Network has confirmed with a source.

Starting April 21, all non-bargaining unit employees who are eligible for telework will have to report to the office or their official duty stations for at least 50% of each pay period. The update applies to headquarters and regional offices nationwide.

The March 5 all-staff email announcement from agency leadership came after the agency began requiring other more senior-level employees to work in the office at least half of the time starting Feb. 11.

Interior’s bargaining unit employees haven’t yet seen any telework changes. The American Federation of Government Employees is still negotiating with management on the union’s telework agreement. But after the latest announcement for non-bargaining unit workers, AFGE official Meka Lawson told Federal News Network she’s “concerned” about a possible decrease to telework coming.

Currently, telework-eligible bargaining unit employees have to report to the office just one day per week.

Acting Deputy Secretary of the Interior Laura Daniel-Davis said the agency seeks to apply the same return-to-office standard to unionized employees, but added that the new policy is “subject to applicable labor-management obligations.”

“This change was part of important and necessary steps to increase meaningful in-person engagement and keep Interior in the strongest possible position to continue to deliver excellent results for our stakeholders, partners, and the American people,” Daniel-Davis wrote in an email to agency staff.

Interior brought all telework-eligible senior executives, supervisors and managers in the National Capital Region back to the office at least 50% of each pay period starting on Sept. 10, 2023. The department also ended its pilot remote work program for senior executives, senior leaders and senior technical and professional employees.

Daniel-Davis urged employees to direct their questions to their supervisors and the department’s human resources office.

“I know that workplace transitions can put stress on you, your colleagues and your families, and we are committed to providing as much support as possible as we navigate this next step together,” Daniel-Davis wrote.

“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.

Social Security Administration

SSA Commissioner Martin O’Malley announced a planned return-to-office for many employees stationed at agency headquarters and regional offices. The exact requirements for SSA staff members depend on their offices, according to a Jan. 30 all-staff email, obtained by Federal News Network.

Employees working directly in the commissioner’s office will be required to work on-site at least four days per week.

Deputy commissioners, as well as employees at headquarters, regional offices and area director offices, will have to work in person at least three days per week.

And employees working in SSA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) are expected to report in person at least two days per week — with the possibility of more in-office time for senior-level executives.

The update from O’Malley comes several months after SSA senior executives, managers and supervisors began reporting in person more often in October and November 2023.

O’Malley said the goal is to use the increased time spent in-person as “core collaboration days.”

“Our return to a greater on-site presence not only gives us more opportunity for collaboration, engagement and innovation, but it also brings us into alignment with other federal agencies across government, who have been increasing their own on-site presence,” O’Malley said in the email.

O’Malley emphasized that his return-to-office decision came in response to numerous conversations with SSA employees over the past several weeks.

“Because I understand any new adjustments to our telework policies will affect you personally, I wanted to give you as much advance notice as possible so you can make adjustments in your own balance between work and life,” he said.

The changes will take effect April 7. In the meantime, SSA employees will receive more information on transit subsidies, parking badges and desk arrangements in the coming days.

Additionally, O’Malley noted that employees in field offices, teleservice centers, program service centers, hearing offices, hearing centers and case assistance centers, as well as those working in the Office of Appellate Operations and the Office of Quality Review, will all continue their current balance of on-site presence and telework. Field offices remain open to the public five days each week.

Updated 1/23: Labor Department

Labor Department employees were initially set to come into the office more often starting on Jan. 28. But Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su announced a delay in the department’s return-to-office plans, according to an all-staff email obtained by Federal News Network.

The delay is due to ongoing labor-management discussions over the planned telework reduction. Su said she plans to update affected Labor employees about the negotiations by Feb. 9.

Su had previously told all teleworking employees they’ll have to report in person at least five days per two-week pay period.

The Labor Department hired more than 5,300 employees since January 2021 – meaning about a third of its 15,000-employee workforce is relatively new. Once return-to-office plans are implemented, Su said the department will be able to hold training and team-building activities more effectively with a greater in-office presence.

“One of the challenges many of you continue to identify is that the pandemic and our reliance on maximum telework has made it difficult to develop relationships with colleagues and build a sense of community —the very things that often make work most fulfilling,” Su said in an all-staff email on Nov. 28, 2023.

The department already set higher in-office work for political appointees, managers and supervisors in October. 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, 2023, 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,” Su said in the Sept. 13, 2023 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.”

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.

Federal Aviation Administration

The Federal Aviation Administration is bringing its employees back to the office more often later this month — but less often than it previously expected.

The FAA expects telework-eligible employees with approved telework agreements will report in person to their official worksite for an average of four days each two-week pay period, starting Jan. 28.

The agency revised its return-to-office expectations, after getting pushback last summer from the unions that represent the FAA workforce.

The FAA previously announced its employees would return to the office at least three days per week — or six days per pay period — starting on Oct. 9, 2023.

In a Nov. 28, 2023 email sent to all employees, FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker, Deputy Administrator Katie Thomson and more than a dozen senior executives wrote the new policy reflects focus groups with FAA managers and talks with union officials.

Justice Department

The Justice Department announced upcoming plans to bring its employees back to the office at least six days per two-week pay period. The change took effect Jan. 14.

“During the pandemic, we learned that the department could allow for greater workplace flexibility than it has traditionally, but we also learned that we miss valuable team-building experiences when everyone is working entirely remotely,” DOJ Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a Sept. 26, 2023 announcement to staff, obtained by Federal News Network.

To develop the return-to-office plans, Monaco said DOJ leaders worked with stakeholders, distributed component surveys, held listening sessions and reviewed more than 8,000 survey responses from department employees to help inform the changes.

More than 70% of DOJ personnel said they already work in person 50% of the time or more, according to the survey results.

The new telework policy doesn’t make any changes to remote work or situational telework at DOJ. Monaco said there can also be some exceptions to the policy update.

“These exceptions should reflect the new realities of the post-pandemic world, based on criteria including, but not limited to, the retention of specialized workers, recruitment of specialized or hard-to-fill positions and office space limitations,” Monaco said.

As part of the new plan, all DOJ component leaders will also have to designate one “core day” per week, where all employees working in the same location will have to report to the office on the same day. Additionally, Monaco said agency managers should make efforts to engage employees, for example by scheduling town halls, one-on-one meetings between supervisors and staff, employee recognition events and group onboarding activities for new employees.

Based on the survey results, Monaco said DOJ is looking at additional steps to enhance the department’s office spaces, for example by offering more food options.

“I realize that this policy update might come as welcome news for some, and less welcome news for others,” Monaco said. “I ask that we all be patient with one another as we enter a period of adjustment. I look forward to our continued work together as we strive for a stronger and more connected workforce.”

State Department

The State Department is told its workforce to start returning 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, 2023 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.”

Small Business Administration

The Small Business Administration is setting a new baseline of in-office workdays for its executives and supervisors.

Starting Sept. 25, 2023, SBA required 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 began reporting to the office for at least five days per pay period, starting on Nov. 5, 2023.

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.

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 began reporting to the office at least four days per two-week pay period in fall 2023. The change took place in a phased approach, beginning in September 2023, and was fully implemented by October 2023.

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, 2023, 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.”

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.

Why are agencies making these changes?

A memo from the Office of Management and Budget in April 2023 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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