WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Mark Kelly, D-Ariz. this week demanded answers from President Biden’s top personnel heads regarding plans to bring federal workers back to the office.
In a letter addressed to the heads of the office of Personnel Management (OPM), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) the senators express concern that the agencies have not instituted plans to transition federal workers back into in-person responsibilities.
“We are writing to express our concerns about the lack of federal agency work plans to transition federal workers back to in-person operations,” the senators wrote. “We respectfully request that you take effective and safe action to transition federal agencies back to the physical workplace to ensure they can adequately serve the public.”
The letter follows legislation the senators filed in February that would direct federal agencies to submit a comprehensive plan for resuming in-person work, titled the RETURN Act. Wicker also led 42 of his colleagues on a similar letter in November citing examples of government task backlog likely worsened by out-of-office operations.
The senators’ efforts are in response to complaints from constituents who have been unable to access federal services despite repeated calls from the President and Congress for federal agencies to resume in-person operations.
“Many of our constituents, particularly those in rural communities and areas without broadband, lack adequate access to federal services. It is time to reopen all in-person essential services for the benefit of the American public,” the senators wrote.
Read the full letter here or below:
Dear Director Ahuja, Director Young, and Administrator Carnahan:
We are writing to express our concerns about the lack of federal agency work plans to transition federal workers back to in-person operations. We respectfully request that you take effective and safe action to transition federal agencies back to the physical workplace to ensure they can adequately serve the public.
We recognize the vital services that federal workers provide to the American people, and we maintain that the health and safety of those employees are a priority. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges that required our nation’s workforce to adapt to slow the spread of the virus. More than two years later, widespread vaccines, testing, and safety measures have resulted in a dramatic decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths. As a result, the private sector and schools have reopened and it is time for the federal government to do the same.
We also recognize that a transition to the post-reentry work environment involves extensive communication with employees and their union representatives. We urge that these progress expeditiously. We were encouraged by the President’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan directing federal agencies to resume in-person operations by April 2022. President Biden reiterated this call for federal agencies to return to normal in his State of the Union address. However, most agencies have yet to publish their work plans, and many federal employees are still working remotely. While we appreciate and encourage the federal government providing employee flexibility and increased telework capabilities, the Administration must ensure that these do not undercut the essential, in-person services that federal agencies provide to the public.
Over the last year, Members of Congress have repeatedly raised concerns that constituent issues remain unaddressed. On February 16, 2022, we introduced the RETURN Act to require federal agencies to submit a comprehensive plan to resume in-person operations and address constituents’ concerns about federal government services.
President Biden and Congress have repeatedly directed federal agencies to return to in-person work. Notably, Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-21-25 outlined procedures for the safe return of federal workers and required agencies to submit reentry plans. Despite these directives, most federal agencies have not complied and published their work plans. As a result, many of our constituents, particularly those in rural communities and areas without broadband, lack adequate access to federal services.
It is time to reopen all in-person essential services for the benefit of the American public.
We are grateful for your attention to this important matter.