House leaders join Senate in asking Trump to mandate telework

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) 

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and several dozen House colleagues are calling on the president to mandate telework for all federal employees and government contractors.

On the heels of Sen. Chris Van Hollen's (D-Md.) March 16 letter to President Donald Trump, House leaders are calling on the White House to immediately issue an executive order mandating telework for all federal employees and contractors across the country.

In the March 17 correspondence, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) urged the executive branch to extend teleworking as a measure of protection against the rapidly spreading coronavirus, citing the Office of Management and Budget’s March 15 memo to agencies asking them to extend "maximum telework capabilities."

"Mandating immediate telework participation to prevent the spread of the disease within the federal employee and contract workforce will also help protect the mission-critical operations of federal agencies," Connolly wrote.

"We are concerned by reports from constituents that some federal supervisors continue to deny telework requests from federal employees and federal contractors who have the capacity to telework and can do so while supporting agency mission-critical operations," he continued. "We believe more can and should be done to ensure the health of our federal workforce, our contractor workforce, and our nation."

Sixty-two other House members signed the letter. The federal government employs 2.1 million people around the world, with some 300,000 based in the Washington, D.C., area. Those federal employees are supported by hundreds of thousands of contractors.

Members of Congress have expressed concern that despite near-daily guidance memos from the Office of Personnel Management and OMB, agencies are not allowing all eligible employees to work remotely. Neither executive agency has the power to mandate agencies to follow their guidelines, and a handful of agencies have opted to implement their own policies instead.

Other agencies, like the Securities and Exchange Commission, have all but mandated teleworking as a precaution after an employee reported coronavirus-like symptoms.

On March 5, Connolly, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) introduced legislation that would ban agencies from unilaterally cutting telework and require them to notify Congress if they chose to rollback such programs. The Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act would also task agencies with setting annual goals for telework program participation.

Telework agreements are also often a point of negotiation for federal unions when negotiating new contracts with their agencies. Since a series of executive workforce orders went into effect, unions such as the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union have said their members' agencies have unilaterally scaled back teleworking with little notice, prompting ongoing labor-management disputes.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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