WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., reintroduced his legislation, the Return Employees To Understaffed Worksites to Reopen Now (RETURN) Act. Wicker’s legislation would require federal agencies to provide their plans to return employees to the office and mitigate future disruptions to federal constituent services.
“Every day, my staff comes to work to support my constituents. Their job is to respond when the phone rings, and we should be able to expect the same thing of our federal bureaucracy. But that is not how the U.S. government is operating,” Wicker said.
“This legislation would fix the uneven resumption of in-person work by the federal government. The pandemic is over. The policies of two years ago are no longer acceptable, and constituents continue to have difficulty receiving critical services.”
On June 10, 2021, GSA, OMB, and OPM issued a memo regarding the return of federal employees and contractors to physical workplaces. The deadline to submit plans was July 19, 2021. These are still unavailable to the general public and to Congress despite ongoing requests.
The extended absence of some federal workers from their workstations has exacerbated ongoing concerns about the federal government’s general responsiveness and accessibility. For example, the wait time for a passport still remains well above 2019 levels at 8-11 weeks. At the end of last year, the IRS inventory of suspended returns grew to 5.9 million. This dramatically increases the time it takes them to resolve suspected identity theft cases. And the Social Security Administration has been widely criticized for a decline in services. Processing times for Social Security claims have risen to an average of 191 days, more than double 2019’s average of 76 days.
This legislation would codify and expand upon the Biden administration order for agencies to submit plans to return their workers to the office. It would also recognize the need to make plans for future disruptions to federal services.
Among other provisions, the legislation would:
- Direct federal agencies to submit to Congress and publish on their website a plan for the agency to resume in-person operations no later than 30 days after enactment of the legislation;
- Require federal agencies to devise explicit guidelines for employees who handle sensitive or private information to ensure essential services can be provided;
- Require agencies to implement performance metrics to identify employees failing to fulfill duties;
- Require agencies to submit plans to prepare for an event in which remote work would become necessary; and
- Require agencies to report the utilization of physical work spaces and recommend the termination of leases for underused spaces to the Administrator of General Services no later than 60 days after enactment.
Read the full text of the bill here.