At a hearing on government oversight on March 9, several members of Congress, many of whom are freshmen representatives, defended federal agencies’ use of telework as an effective, valuable tool which, in many instances, has been life-changing for employees who are military spouses or people with disabilities.
As certain lawmakers have attempted to politicize telework policy to stoke unjustified popular resentment against federal employees, several members of Congress spoke in support of expanded telework using real-life examples from their constituents. Their view, which Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Kiran Ahuja shares, is that backlogs and delays are caused by staffing shortages, not telework and remote work.
Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., for example, said military spouses in his district report struggling with maintaining a career as they have to move often. But because of remote work, they are now able to support their military partners and keep up with family expenses. He said the Pentagon rightly expanded telework and remote work opportunities to help military spouses build portable careers.
Frost submitted for record a letter from a group of military spouses who have relied on telework and remote work to continue to serve our country and provide for their families. He gave an example of a State Department employee whose military husband was about to be transferred to San Diego. The employee, who has worked for the State Department for 22 years, was able to continue to do her job and support her husband’s career because of the remote work option.
“I think the Republicans’ attack on telework is interesting because it’s specifically damaging to military families. Military spouses do their best to support their partners in a career that’s dangerous, people serving our country and keep us safe as a nation,” he said.
Frost said active military members cited spousal employment as number one reason for leaving military service. He asked Ahuja if telework helps retain active military members.
Ahuja, who defended telework and remote work throughout the hearing, said OPM did a study on remote jobs over the last six months last year and on average, they had 25 military spouse applications for remote work positions compared to one to two for duty-location jobs.
“So, you see a huge pick-up of interest because you have the ability to have the portability of that job,” Ahuja explained.
Rep. Summer Lee, D-Pa., said telework allowed agencies to continue to serve the American people when they needed it the most during Covid-19. It also increases the ability of the federal government to attract the best and the brightest regardless of their race, gender, or disability status, a statement Ahuja agreed based on an analysis that OPM did. Ahuja also said without telework, the government wouldn’t have been able to operate during the pandemic.
“It’s unsurprising that folks who would deny the reality of Covid would also pretend that work only happens in an office,” Lee added.
Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, said telework helps the government save money from having to pay for space for hundreds of people to work and asked Ahuja to confirm whether that’s true, which she did. The OPM director added that with telework, federal employees no longer need a day off during bad weather.
Throughout the hearing, Democratic members of Congress poked holes in their Republican counterparts’ attack on telework and remote work.
Frost said he agreed with Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, that people deserve to hear from federal employees in a timely manner, but he pointed out that Sessions and his House Republican colleagues’ first act in Congress was passing a bill to eliminate 87,000 new IRS employees from the Inflation Reduction Act, a 2022 law that provides all kinds of tax credits and deductions to the American people, among other benefits.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., ranking member of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee that held the hearing, said when Republicans attack telework, they usually mention stories like the passport backlog and how federal workers need to “show up” to do the work. But Connolly said that the passport services program doesn’t even allow its staff to telework.