Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:41 p.m. EST to include comment from the National Treasury Employees Union.
Beginning in January, employees of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will be required to work on site three days per week.
The change, which the agency told Federal Times on Tuesday, affects most employees located at the headquarters, regional and area offices. It will not apply to field office examiners who work at banks. Employees will be limited to teleworking two days per week effective Jan. 1, 2024.
“We believe it is in the long-term interest of the FDIC to achieve better balance between in-office work and telework in order to carry out its critically important mission effectively,” the FDIC said in a statement.
The agency that oversees financial institutions and has about 6,000 employees operated under mandatory telework rules for 29 months until 2022, when it began reopening offices. At the onset of the pandemic, the FDIC transitioned roughly almost all employees and more than 1,000 contractors to telework in the span of a single weekend without a major interruption, according to its annual report.
Under a 2022 agreement with the National Treasury Employees Union, eligible employees had options for several kinds of remote work and telework, which varied from episodic to extended, and authorized some employees to work five days per biweekly pay period out of the office.
Working from home was a popular choice: 80% of FDIC staff elected to do so, according to the FDIC inspector general’s February report.
“NTEU and the frontline employees we represent at FDIC strongly oppose the agency’s plan to disregard previous negotiated agreements on telework policy and require employees to report to the office significantly more days per period than is necessary,” said Tony Reardon, national president of the union, in a statement. “The agency’s announcement is especially counterproductive because if implemented, will weaken morale and, we fear, cause some of the agency’s valuable and highly trained employees to retire or seek alternative employment.”
Reardon added that NTEU will respond with a counter proposal, since across-the-board decreases in telework opportunities are not tied to the mission of the agency nor tailored to individual employees’ duties, which makes them arbitrary and unjustified.
Now the agency is looking to reemphasize in-person work. The White House has offered mixed guidance, some have said, leading supervisors to interpret next steps for themselves. In a May memo to agency heads, the Office of Personnel Management said while it encouraged agencies to leverage telework as a bulwark to attrition and an incentive for job candidates, it expects “meaningful in-person work” post-pandemic.
At the FDIC, both are a looming problem.
The same inspector general report found that 21% percent of the FDIC workforce was eligible to retire in 2022. By 2027, that figure is projected to rise to 38%. And currently, all FDIC divisions have higher retirement eligibility than the government-wide average. The vacancies retirees will leave behind may have a “significant” impact on the agency’s consumer compliance and information technology departments. Examiners-in-training have also been resigning at a higher rate, according to the report.
The agency has also yet to determine what effects hybrid work has had, and will continue to have, on its readiness.
Congress has also been putting pressure on agencies to answer for their empty offices, even before the national COVID-19 emergency ended last month. On May 25, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) sent a letter to the General Services Administration saying “the pandemic is over, and there’s no reason for taxpayer-funded offices to sit empty.”
Meanwhile, Republicans in the House are trying to insert work requirements in the annual spending bills for 2024, threatening to withhold funds if agencies don’t comply.
The agreement also stipulated that changes to the telework agreement could be made a year after the FDIC transitioned to its third return-to-office phase or after April 1. Any proposed changes are subject to bargaining, according to the document.
Local union representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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.