When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we saw a sharp rise in remote work, or telework. We were living through unprecedented times. Telework became an option for many, allowing workers to do their jobs, to the best of their ability, from home.
That was then. It’s been three years since the start of the pandemic, and it is largely behind us.
Most Americans have returned to work in person as they had done before COVID-19. Unfortunately, the federal workforce in large measure hasn’t followed suit.
During President Biden’s State of the Union address last March, he said, “People working from home can feel safe and begin to return to their offices. We’re doing that here in the federal government. The vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person.”
But this hasn’t been the case. According to a Federal Times report from October, just 1 in 3 federal workers had returned to work in-person full time in 2022.
Before the pandemic, only about 3% of federal employees teleworked daily. In their most recent report on telework, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said that nearly half, or 47%, of federal workers currently teleworked routinely or situationally in Fiscal Year 2021, which ended Sept. 30, 2022.
Too many people around the country, those in the 9th District included, have seen the real-world effects of federal workers not being in their offices.
Seniors have waited on the phone for hours to talk to someone from the Social Security Administration about receiving their benefits as they have been unable to talk to someone in person. In part because the agency has kept their offices largely closed to the public.
Many veterans have waited for months to get their medical records from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), part of the National Archives. At one point, the center had a backlog of approximately 500,000 requests for records.
One constituent requested medals and records from the Navy in August of 2020 through our office. Despite numerous follow-ups, the response from the NPRC was that they were backlogged. In May of 2021, he died. We received the medals and records a year later in May of 2022.
Because of closures to passport offices around the country, in-person appointments have mostly disappeared, leaving people with the inability to get a new passport in a timely manner.
In one case we had a constituent reach out for help after realizing his passport was expired. Because of staffing issues and backlogs, the regional passport agency could not provide an appointment due to limited appointments. After reaching out to all the passport agency acceptance centers in the country, the only available appointment was in Aurora, Colorado.
Obviously, federal workers aren’t supposed to take home your tax return, passport application, or Social Security records.
It’s time for federal workers to actually return to work so that they can more adequately serve the needs of the American people.
When Republicans took control of Congress, we ended proxy voting, which allowed Members of Congress to phone in their votes. More discussions to improve legislation occur in hallways, stairwells, and elevators than ever occurred on a zoom meeting with 30 people. The same is true for federal workers. More collaboration on solving problems will occur when they actually work together in the office.
Unfortunately, while Republicans have tried for months to get information from the Biden Administration on how telework has decreased federal agencies’ ability to perform their duties, the Administration has not responded.
We can no longer wait on the Administration. We have to push them. Accordingly, just a few days ago I voted in favor of the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems Act, or the SHOW UP Act.
The SHOW Up Act, which passed the House largely along party lines, requires federal agencies to return to pre-pandemic levels by reinstating telework policies that were in place on Dec. 31, 2019.
The bill would also require federal agencies to submit a study to Congress looking at the effects of telework, whether it improved or harmed agency effectiveness.
If an agency can demonstrate to Congress that they are able to perform better with telework, while also lowering agency costs and ensuring agency network security, increased telework can be considered as an option.
Bottomline, we must do what we can to best serve the needs of our fellow Americans by promoting productivity and effectiveness in our federal workforce.
I believe that is returning to work in person.
- Congressman Morgan Griffith