Lawmakers pushing to limit remote work for federal employees

According to Pew Research, 35% of all American workers who can work from home, do so all the time. Before the pandemic, only 7% of workers did.

While more employees are heading into the office compared to last year, sidewalks near major office buildings in most cities are nowhere close to as busy as where they were before COVID-19.

In many places, city leaders are actively pushing for employees to come back, tired of empty retail spaces that are supposed to be filled. While this remote work controversy isn’t new, in Washington, D.C, it is getting more political.

Iowa’s Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is leading the charge to highlight a list of taxpayer-funded agencies with low in-person occupancy rates.

“HUDD and the Social Security Administration, they are using just 7% of their office space. COVID has been over for years — where are the workers?” said Ernst. 

It isn’t just Republicans questioning federal workers and their flows — the White House is as well, with the White House chief of staff pushing cabinet secretaries to bring more employees back in recent months to improve workplace culture. 

Of course, doing so would impact thousands nationwide.

Scripps News spoke with American Federation of Government Employees Policy Director Jacqueline Simon on the subject. 

“Eighty-five percent of the federal workforce works outside the Washington, D.C. area,” said Simon.

Simon says this isn’t just a D.C. story, it’s a national one, and while her union isn’t opposed to some limited telework changes in the future, she says drastic ones would impact retention and recruitment, especially since government jobs already can’t compete when it comes to pay in the private sector.

“They have to be able to compete with work arrangements. We don’t have any evidence of productivity declining as the result of enhanced telework,” said Simon.

Simon says this issue will likely be a part of collective bargaining in future years, years in which Wall Street is already predicting a nationwide reduction in telework.

An analysis by the firm KPMG found that 63% of CEOs predict a full return to in-office work by the end of 2026.