Republican lawmakers want feds back in the office

Rep. Jody Hice, the top Republican on the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, says that recent CDC guidance on masks, vaccination and social distancing means that it's time for the federal government to move away from the emergency pandemic footing.

Rep. Hice with Georgia Army National Guardsmen and families in 2018 (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class R.J. Lannom Jr.)

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, wants to know when feds will go back in the office.

In a May 18 letter to Kathleen McGettigan, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, Hice said it was time for federal employees to go back to the workplace "to the fullest possible degree." He pointed to recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor locations and to rising vaccination rates.

Hice, who is giving up his seat in Congress to run for secretary of state in Georgia, wrote that the shift to almost 100% remote work has taken a toll on customer service functions, with negative effects for veterans and Social Security beneficiaries.

"This is particularly critical for the most vulnerable of our constituents including seniors and low-income Americans, as well as individuals who may not have internet access or the computer skills necessary to navigate an entirely virtual interaction with a government agency," Hice wrote.

Hice also noted that he'd like to see some consideration given to rethinking locality pay and the overall government real estate footprint if large-scale teleworking continues post-COVID.

"If fully remote work arrangements continue indefinitely into the future, the taxpayers would benefit from reassessing whether remote workers should be considered eligible for locality pay," Hice said, noting the significant locality pay bump for feds in the National Capital Region.

Hice requested a staff-level briefing no later than May 25, 2021 on the preparation and planning on bringing federal workers back into the office.

Leaders at OPM have stated that the agency is preparing guidance that will provide agencies the flexibility to continue remote and telework going forward after of the pandemic.

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