USDA finalizes more expansive telework

The new policy reverses telework restrictions put in place during the Trump administration before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Department of Agriculture is laying down a more expansive telework policy and establishing a remote work regulation, a change after teleworking policies were restricted during the Trump administration.

In a letter to staff from assistant secretary for administration Oscar Gonzales sent last week and shared with FCW by USDA, Gonzales wrote that agency leadership is “committed to building a workplace and workforce that helps USDA truly become the people’s department and a best place to work” and continued to say that “building back your trust in the workplace is one of our top priorities.”

The department’s new policy permits up to eight days of telework in every two-week pay period, according to Gonzales’ email. The specifics will be “based on the duties of the position.”

The new regulation also establishes USDA’s remote work policies, laying down eligibility and procedures for remote work. Within the department, “mission areas, agencies and staff offices” will be able to develop their own remote work agreements,” the email states.


The policy also requires that the department provide a “business-case based written response for denial of telework and remote work requests for all employees” and lays out other guidance for overseas telework and management practices.

USDA also has a newly updated telework and remote work FAQ page on the policies.

These new regulations replace interim ones issued in March 2021 by department secretary Tom Vilsak, which rescinded Trump-era teleworking policies. Those, put in place in 2018, restricted teleworking at USDA to one day of telework a week. That more restrictive policy was superseded by the pivot to maximum telework put in place in March 2020 in response to the fast moving COVID-19 pandemic.

The Biden White House and personnel office have both laid out expanding telework and remote work flexibilities as priorities for the administration and a tool to recruit and retain the workforce.

During the Trump administration, the restrictive telework policies did indeed correlate to a decrease in teleworking at USDA, according to data from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).

About one in five Agriculture employees reported teleworking at least one day a week in 2018, with just 4.3% teleworking three or more days a week. In 2017, 8.4% of employees said they teleworked three or more days a week.

Now, the department says that the new program will help with diversity and morale, the second of which has been a pain point in recent years.

In the most recent Best Places to Work rankings, which are based on FEVS data, the department’s overall ranking for employee engagement was 56.5 – second to last among 17 large agencies. That's compared to recent high of 65.9 in 2017.

Morale in certain aspects of the department suffered especially.

The Trump administration moved two USDA components -- the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) -- from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City region. ERS ranked 415 out of 420 agency subcomponents in the most recent Best Places to Work rankings. NIFA ranked next to last.

“The policies outlined in this [departmental regulation] are just the beginning of restoring the confidence of our workforce and ensuring USDA attracts a talented and diverse workforce representative of America,” says Gonzales in his email to staff.

The department “will continue to listen to and engage with you, other employees, and union leaders to analyze the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) and study the findings of the telework survey that was administered earlier this year where 50,048 employees provided their input,” Gonzales wrote.

He also pointed to the use of a survey pilot from the Office of Management and Budget “to guide us on how best to build USDA as one of the federal government’s best places to work.”

Currently, USDA is in the process of returning to physical workspaces, with senior leadership starting to return on Dec. 1, according to a department FAQ sheet revised on Nov. 15.

“Full-fledged return to the workplace” for all employees at the department is starting on Jan. 3. That’s scheduled to end by March 14, 2022.

However, the document also notes that the return depends on “the status of the pandemic,” among other things, a relevant note as the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus has caused uncertainty about the status of the pandemic.

This article was published first on FCW, a FederalSoup partner site.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.