Bipartisan Senate duo presses for transparency in federal telework policies

A bipartisan pair of senators introduced a bill on Wednesday that seeks to increase the transparency regarding federal agencies’ telework policies, with the senators claiming that government workers may be receiving undeserving amounts of local pay.

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced the Telework Transparency Act, which would require agencies to make their work-from-home policies publicly available, as well as mandate audits to determine whether teleworking employees are receiving the correct locality-based pay.

Some of the record-keeping is already completed by the Office of Personnel Management, but the Iowa senator said the reports are often outdated by the time they are published. The bill takes issue with federal employees who may be collecting locality pay from their office location but are teleworking from a different city.

“Americans are being left on hold while Biden’s bureaucrats phone it in from home,” Ernst said in an exclusive statement to the Washington Examiner. “So-called ‘temporary’ telework policies at federal agencies are costing taxpayers the time and attention they pay for, leaving my constituents out in the dark.”

“As a veteran, I want the Department of Veterans Affairs to pick up the phone when a veteran calls. As a daughter, I want the Social Security Administration to respond if my mom has an issue,” the Iowa senator added. “That’s why I’m turning up the heat on Biden’s agencies and leading this bipartisan bill to provide full transparency into telework so taxpayers no longer have to be on the hook for ineffective service, expensive wasted space, or misspent locality pay.”

The goal of the bill is to instill more accountability and save billions in taxpayer dollars, according to a press release. This is the latest step that Ernst has taken to encourage and demand oversight over federal work-from-home policies in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. Since August of last year, she has requested investigations into 24 federal departments and agencies for their telework procedures.

Other areas the bill touches on include monitoring telework agency performance, such as customer service, backlogs and wait times, cost to operations, security, management of property, technology investments, and recruitment and retention. The bill also seeks to establish automated systems that would track employees who work from home.

“Federal agencies must track and consider the impact of telework on their ability to deliver services, recruit and retain talent, and ensure office operations are cost-efficient,” Peters said in a statement.

The efforts to exercise congressional oversight span both chambers. Several coalitions in Congress have worked to bring federal workforces back to in-person work, while the Biden administration has taken a middle-of-the-lane approach.

The vague or broad regulations for in-person work have created telework schedules that vary by federal agency despite White House chief of staff Jeff Zients sending out a memo asking all agencies to end work-from-home policies in April 2023. He said in-person work “is critical to the well-being of our teams and will enable us to deliver better results for the American people.” 

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In late March, House Republicans on the Small Business Committee sent a letter to the Small Business Administration accusing the agency of failing to implement in-person work strategies and taking advantage of telework, a privilege they say small-business owners do not possess.

“Our small-business owners don’t have the luxury to work from home, and the SBA should be marching to the same tune,” House Small Business Committee Chairman Roger Williams (R-TX) said.

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