Successful pandemic-response strategies should continue

Government employees and some lawmakers are hoping to make COVID-driven operational changes, such as teleworking and accelerated hiring processes, last beyond the pandemic.

On Capitol Hill, government employees and some lawmakers are hoping to make the operational changes that COVID-19 necessitated for government agencies last beyond the pandemic.

The Government Accountability Office's Managing Director for Strategic Issues, J. Christopher Mihm, said that his office had found the transition to remote work "seamless" with little to no disruption in its daily routine.

"From an operational and technological standpoint, it's certainly been normal, and if anything, [agency operations] have gotten a little bit better [under telework]," Mihm told the House Government Operations subcommittee during a June 25 hearing.

Committee Chairman Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) noted that while public-facing agencies such as the IRS and Social Security Administration had had to shutter offices, "it's a good time to remember that our government never shut down once during this pandemic."

While outdated technology has presented a challenge for some agencies, guaranteeing their members' ability to telework has been a key issue for many unions since before and especially during the pandemic.

In a supporting statement to the committee, the Partnership for Public Service's President Max Stier urged department heads to consider making certain measures that the pandemic mandated, such as teleworking and accelerated hiring processes, permanent in order to address longstanding workforce issues such as mass vacancies and slow hiring timelines.

The Partnership developed its own checklist for agencies to reference as they consider slowly returning workers to the office and in-person work.

"The rapid shift to remote working, overall, appears to have been a resounding success, with many agencies reporting improvements to productivity and services while operating under maximum telework," he wrote. "The experience during the pandemic has shown us that a remote workforce can be a productive workforce, and that agencies should use the flexibility of telework as a selling point in recruiting and retaining top talent across the country."

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