House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., introduced legislation on Jan. 11 that would roll back Federal agency telework policies to their year-end 2019 levels, and require agencies to justify any future changes in telework policies through reporting to Congress.

Rep. Comer’s bill – the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act – would “prevent the Biden Administration from cementing pandemic-era telework policies for the Federal workforce until it provides Congress with a viable plan to avoid the negative impacts of remote work,” the congressman’s office said.

Cosponsors of the legislation include Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Byron Donalds, R-Fla., and Michael Cloud, R-Texas.

If it became law, the bill would direct Federal agencies to “reinstate and apply the telework policies, practices, and levels of the agency as in effect on December 31, 2019.” Much of the Federal civilian government workforce shifted to telework in March 2020 with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal agencies would not be able to adjust telework policies from their December 2019 status unless they offered a plan to do so to Congress accompanied by a certification from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Agencies would have six months to submit to Congress studies on the impact to their operations of telework during the pandemic. Those studies would include any adverse effects to operations and mission, and costs to the agencies including locality rates paid to employees.

On the tech front, the reports would have to explain “the degree to which the agency failed during that expansion to provide teleworking employees with secure network capacity, communications tools, necessary and secure access to appropriate agency data assets and Federal records, and equipment sufficient to enable each such employee to be fully productive.”

“For years, Americans have suffered from the Federal government’s detrimental pandemic-era telework policies for Federal bureaucrats,” Rep. Comer said. “President Biden’s unnecessary expansion of telework crippled the ability of departments and agencies to fulfill their responsibilities and created cumbersome backlogs.”

“The Federal government exists to serve the American people and these substantial delays for basic services are unacceptable,” he said, adding that his bill will “guarantee Federal agencies are meeting their missions.”

According to Rep. Comer’s office, “the Federal government’s expansion of telework during the pandemic has delayed critical assistance to veterans, tax refunds, passport applications, and other basic services. The SHOW UP Act will require Federal agencies to return to their pre-pandemic telework policies so that employees will be in-person.”

The back-to-the-office bill landed on the same day as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) renewed its determination that the coronavirus pandemic constitutes a nationwide public health emergency.  The government has maintained that stance since late January 2020.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.