The House Oversight and Accountability Committee plans to investigate how many Federal employees are teleworking, following last week’s memo from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that asked agencies to increase the amount of in-person work at Federal offices, while also balancing telework as an important retention tool.

Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., voiced his opposition to OMB’s new guidance, issuing a statement that criticized the Biden administration’s “prolonged pandemic-era telework.”

“OMB managed to issue a 19-page memo that shed virtually no light on when Federal employees are returning to their offices – or under what conditions continued elevated levels of telework may be warranted,” Rep. Comer said in the April 14 statement.

“Based on today’s briefing with OMB, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is the best way to characterize the Biden administration’s telework policy,” he asserted.

“OMB isn’t asking agencies how many employees are currently working in person and the agencies aren’t telling them,” he continued. “The OPM [Office of Personnel Management] director also recently testified before the House Oversight Committee and repeatedly could not answer how many Federal employees are working in person.”

The OMB guidance instructed agencies to develop updated “work environment plans,” based on post-pandemic reentry plans.

Federal agencies have a 30-day deadline to provide OMB with their updated work environment plans, which should include their current telework policies and anticipated changes. Additionally, agencies must identify a lead for organizational health and organizational performance, who can oversee and monitor workplace changes.

However, Chairman Comer – a strong advocate for returning to in-person work – said he also wants a concrete number on how many Federal employees are currently teleworking.

“Since the Biden administration refuses to discover the number of Federal employees teleworking, the Oversight Committee plans to do their work for them,” he said. “We will soon contact Federal agencies about how many Federal workers continue pandemic-era telework. It’s essential the Federal workforce get back to the workplace and provide better service to the American people.”

President Biden signed a Republican-backed bill last week that officially ended the COVID-19 national emergency, and many lawmakers expect Federal agencies to return to the office for that reason – despite strong endorsements that telework provides flexibility and a competitive edge.

“Face time is not a proxy for performance. We actually need to utilize these workplace flexibilities in order to take advantage of what we’ve learned throughout the pandemic,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said at a House Oversight hearing last month. “We’ve actually seen greater engagement by employees. We’ve seen greater productivity and performance.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.