Top Republican Calls for IG Investigations Into Feds’ Telework Productivity During Pandemic

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., the top Republican on the oversight panel, said agencies have not proven their work did not suffer during the pandemic and accused the federal workforce of becoming “less effective.” 

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., the top Republican on the oversight panel, said agencies have not proven their work did not suffer during the pandemic and accused the federal workforce of becoming “less effective.”  Jacquelyn Martin / AP

An oversight subcommittee ranking member, Jody Hice, blasted the White House for seeking a permanent increase in federal remote work without first seeking more data about the impact on agency missions.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are requesting that inspectors general at 10 of the largest federal agencies issue reports on the impact that mass telework has had on mission delivery, suggesting such reviews are necessary before the Biden administration permanently scales up remote work. 

The request follows a memorandum the White House issued earlier this month instructing agencies to allow all employees who have worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic to remain permanently eligible for at least some telework. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., the top Republican on the oversight committee's Government Operations panel, said agencies have not proven their work did not suffer during the pandemic and accused the federal workforce of becoming “less effective.” 

“During the pandemic, telework expanded dramatically out of necessity,” OMB wrote in its joint memo with the General Services administration and the Office of Personnel Management. “As agencies consider what their post-reentry polices should be, OPM encourages them to consider telework as part of overall strategic workforce planning that provides new flexibilities to agencies competing for top talent with other sectors across the country.”

The administration added the pandemic has proven agencies can implement telework and other flexibility options “effectively and efficiently.” Hice took issue with that assertion, saying in his request to the IGs that it was unclear “what the objective basis for this claim is.” He highlighted a backlog in processing veterans’ records created while staff at the National Archives and Records Administration were forced to work remotely. 

The subcommittee ranking member asked the auditors to probe the impact of telework on agency mission, customer satisfaction and employee performance. He asked the IGs to look into those matters on top of a request from committee Democrats to investigate the impact of remote work on information security. 

“As the Biden Administration moves forward with its return-to-work plans, this information is vital to understanding potential impacts on the level of service Americans can expect,” Hice said. 

In a statement, Hice blasted the Biden administration for its “lack of urgency in getting agencies back to a normal operating status.” 

“Incredibly, the White House is now considering expanding work-from-home options for federal employees even before we have a clear picture of how it will impact Americans,” Hice said. “I’m calling on inspectors general to investigate the overall impact telework had on our federal agencies during this pandemic and report back to Congress so we can accurately assess how to move forward before rushing into foolhardy reforms.” 

The ranking member’s letters also follow one from Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the oversight committee’s panel on Government Operations, encouraging OPM acting Director Kathleen McGettigan to “consider how increased telework opportunities can keep employees safe and allow the federal government to compete for talent against the private sector.” 

Federal employees themselves have shown overwhelming support for the increased use of telework. About 60% of feds reported teleworking daily during the height of the pandemic, up from just 3% prior to it. Per OMB guidance, each agency must submit its own plan for bringing employees back to the office by July 19.  They have already turned over draft versions of those plans. The administration instructed agencies to preserve flexibilities, but to focus first on mission delivery based on lessons learned over the last 15 months.

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