Lawmakers look to extend federal telework as coronavirus cases rise

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A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would require federal agencies to maximize telework for the rest of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pandemic Federal Telework Act comes in response to COVID-19 cases rising across the U.S. while agencies consider bringing personnel back into the office.

All eligible employees would be allowed to telework full-time, and agencies would have to evaluate extending the option to other workers, should the bill become law.

“Maximizing telework is a no brainer — it keeps employees on the job while also keeping them safe and healthy and reduces the spread of the virus in our communities,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., one of the bill’s sponsors, in a statement. “This is the best way to keep workers safe so they can continue providing vital services to the American people during this difficult time.”

Van Hollen partnered with Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., on the legislation as they did on the Emergency Telework Act when the pandemic began.

Under the new legislation, agency heads would be allowed to waive telework requirements when jobs can’t be done remotely. The White House would be expected to develop a plan for telework in the event of a future public health emergency and allow the Technology Modernization Fund to be used for IT upgrades enabling telework.

Managers and supervisors, including those who are appointed, would be expected to participate in telework training within 180 days of assuming their posts so they’re prepared to manage a remote workforce.

“This bill wisely will maintain our government’s ability to serve the American people during the COVID crisis,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, in a statement. “It also will help create government efficiencies that last well beyond the pandemic, by enhancing telework capabilities and equipping managers and supervisors to oversee a remote workforce.”

Lankford also indicated an interest in continuing to make telework available after the pandemic.

The National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys backed the bill, as most of its members are teleworking during the crisis, and so did the Professional Managers Association that represents IRS managers among others.

“As we have already seen, it is inevitable that some IRS employees will need to report to federal facilities to handle taxpayer needs, such as sorting the thousands of pieces of mail correspondence the IRS receives every day,” said Chad Hooper, national president of PMA, in a statement. “To ensure these individuals and other IRS employees are not placed at a heightened risk for exposure to the coronavirus pandemic, it is critical that all employees who can complete their mission remotely do so to allow for social distancing in federal facilities for those who cannot telework.”

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Chris Van Hollen, coronavirus, IRS, James Lankford, Kyrsten Sinema, National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Partnership for Public Service, Professional Managers Association, Technology Modernization Fund, telework, White House
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