A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation requiring federal agencies to maximize telework policies for federal employees during the coronavirus crisis.

While government continues to operate during the coronavirus outbreak, the Emergency Telework Act would “give a clear directive” to agencies to allow all telework eligible employees to work from home full time unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to allow it, according to a news release from Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. It also directs federal agencies to evaluate if non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible.

The legislation was introduced by Van Hollen, Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. In a statement, Van Hollen said that government isn’t leading by example on telework policy.

“Instead, we’re hearing from employees across the federal government who have been forced to come into the office even when they’re able to work from home,” said Van Hollen. "The inconsistent federal response is senseless, and ultimately, in the face of the coronavirus, it endangers the health and safety of thousands. We must act to maximize telework now.”

The response by the Office of Personnel Management and Office of Management and Budget to the crisis has been criticized by unions and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The office directed agencies to maximize telework flexibility for employees, but agencies are implementing at different speeds. According to the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, agencies like the the Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency have all employees teleworking, while others lag.

“This is common-sense legislation that is needed to ensure federal employees also have the ability to telework as the federal government is encouraging Americans to stay at home. If federal employees have the ability to serve Americans from home during this time it is right to allow them to do so,” Lankford said in a statement.

The legislation also directs the executive branch to create a plan to maximize telework in case of a future public health crisis.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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