The House on Wednesday passed a bill that would force executive agencies to end teleworking policies implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, ordering the entities to revert back to plans in place in 2019.
The legislation — titled the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act — passed in a 221-206 vote. Three Democrats — Reps. Josh Harder (Calif.), Kim Schrier (Wash.) and Susan Wild (Pa.) — supported the bill. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) was the only Republican to oppose the measure.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the sponsor of the bill, called the measure “urgent.”
“The federal workforce needs to get back to work. Federal agencies are falling short on their missions. They are not carrying out their duties; they are failing the American people,” he said.
“Federal employees not being in the workplace hurt the federal government’s ability to achieve its missions and deliver vital programs,” he later added.
The number of government employees teleworking increased rapidly amid the pandemic. According to a CBS News review of data and reports from the Office Of Personnel Management (OPM), the number of government employees who teleworked increased from roughly 483,000 in 2018 to more than 1 million by 2021.
Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, argued the legislation “offers a much-needed solution to this problem of federal agencies and federal employees putting their own comfort before our constituents’ needs.”
The measure requires that, within 30 days of its enactment, executive agencies reinstate telework policies that were in place on Dec. 31, 2019.
It also directs executive agencies to prepare a study within six months of enactment that outlines how the expanded use of teleworking during the pandemic influenced the mission of the group. The text specifically asks for an analysis on adverse impacts increased teleworking had on customer service performance, network security and costs for the agency — including maintaining underutilized property.
Additionally, the measure would bar any teleworking policies from being expanded until the agency submits a plan to Congress and the plan is certified by the OPM director. The OPM must attest that the teleworking plan will positively affect the agency’s mission and decrease costs related to property, among other requirements.
Democrats spoke out against the bill during debate on the House floor Wednesday, arguing that teleworking has benefits for the employees.
“We strongly oppose this bill, which is an assault on all the progress we’ve made over the last several years in telework policy,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said. “Telework has strengthened private and public workplaces across the land, enhanced productivity, increased efficiency, improved the morale and satisfaction of the workforce, reduced traffic congestion and made positive environmental changes.”
“When the chairman says it’s time to return to work, I believe this is a misnomer because people who participate in telework are working. They’re already working, and so they don’t need to return to work,” he added.
Raskin called teleworking “a lifeline for people who have disabilities or immunocompromised, and it offers dramatically expanded opportunities for people living in more rural areas to enter and sustain a career in the federal service.”
“We cannot enter a time machine and simply wish away the utility of telework in recruiting and retaining new generations of federal workers. We should embrace telework as part of a balanced workplace policy to promote employee satisfaction and overall mission outcome,” he added.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said “we should be embracing the productivity and employee satisfaction gains realized through telework.”
— Updated at 8:27 p.m.