Bob Westbrooks, who retired earlier this year as executive director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), delivered a wholehearted endorsement on Feb. 9 of the enduring value of wide-scale telework practices that the Federal government turned to in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
PRAC is made up of Federal government agency inspectors general and was established by the 2020 CARES Act to promote transparency and support independent oversight of the funds provided by the CARES Act and other related emergency spending bills, totaling about $5 trillion of Federal spending.
In addition to coordination and oversight, PRAC is tasked with supporting efforts to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse in pandemic relief spending.
“One of the lessons we learned for the pandemic is that there’s a significant number of Federal workers … that can work better, as well or better, when working from home when given the choice,” Westbrooks said at an event organized by Nextgov. “That was one of the great lessons that I think we learned.”
Westbrooks described himself as a “career watchdog, lawyer, CPA, [and] certified internal auditor, which means I’m probably the most skeptical, cynical human being that you’ll ever run across in your life.”
“The fact that I can embrace remote work,” he said, means that, “I think any organization can.”
“It’s all about the data, it’s all about whether there is a business case for remote work,” he said. “I’m absolutely convinced” of the merits of remote work for the Federal government based on data gathered by the group of inspectors general, he emphasized.
Going forward, he said that Federal agencies should realize that “the arc of work culture is bending towards flexibility,” and in light of that, agencies need to consider whether they will be leaders in that direction.
“The people that I’ve seen in the Federal government and even in the private sector, the stars want to work in a place where there’s a compelling mission, a clear vision … and optimal autonomy,” Westbrooks said. “I’ve yet to find a star that doesn’t want to work in that environment.”
“We’ve got such a compelling mission [at] so many of our agencies, why aren’t we giving folks that clear vision and trying to figure out how to give them optimal autonomy,” he asked.
“I know it’s hard, I know it’s very difficult, but for God’s sake, we just shot a Chinese spy balloon out of the sky … we should be able to figure out how to do remote work,” Westbrooks said.