Two U.S. senators added a bipartisan telework bill to the stack of legislation seeking more oversight of federal agencies’ work-from-home policies, claiming that some government workers may be getting locality pay they don’t deserve.

Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Gary Peters, D-Mich., introduced legislation on Wednesday requiring the federal government make its telework policies public and add auto-tracking of telework use in federal payroll systems. Some of that recordkeeping is done already by the Office of Personnel Management, but Ernst said these reports are outdated by the time they’re published.

In particular, the bill takes issue with federal employees who may be collecting locality pay based on their office location but work from home in a different city.

“For too long, Americans have been on hold while bureaucrats phone it in,” Ernst said in a statement. “Since ‘temporary’ telework policies went into effect over four years ago, the remote lifestyle comes at the expense of the people federal agencies are meant to serve.”

The federal government has been going back and forth on its telework policies since the pandemic formally ended almost a year ago. Employees and unions like the flexibility for its appeal to recruitment and retention. The White House has picked a middle-of-the-road approach in permitting it with some limits.

Members of Congress want to see broad swaths of the workforce brought back full time to finally address the years-long problem of unused office space and piled up maintenance work. The result of these competing interests is a hotchpotch of telework schedules that vary between, and within, agencies.

“How can somebody in a remote location be handling these tax returns? That just seems to me that it’s not doing the job that needs to be done to help service American constituents,” said Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kansas, during a recent oversight hearing with IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.

The Ernst-Peters bill also recycles a provision from the USE IT Act, introduced by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., that would establish a minimum building utilization rate of 60%, based on the number of square feet and the daily average number of individuals who work in the space.

There are also efforts floating around Capitol Hill that would further diminish or govern use of telework, including the SHOW Up Act, Telework Reform Act, the Return to Work Act, Earn Your Keep Act and the Return Act

None of the aforementioned have so far passed both chambers, though the House passed the SHOW UP Act last year.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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