A union representing 2,500 employees at the Government Accountability Office, an independent, nonpartisan agency that audits the federal government, secured an agreement that preserves telework and remote work for its workforce while many other agencies are calling employees back.

“We reached an agreement that incorporates lessons learned from our pandemic work posture,” said Benjamin Emmel, president of a local chapter of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, in a statement. “It reflects the fact that for decades GAO employees have not only been located in Washington, but assigned to field offices across the country, and accounts for the wide range of work assignments that our members do.”

The agreement, which was ratified by the union and approved by Comptroller General Gene Dodaro last week, maintains flexible working configurations that have been in place even before the pandemic forced much of government to go fully remote, Emmel said in an interview.

Under the contract, which serves as an addendum to the full collective bargaining agreement, employees approved for routine telework are required to report onsite a minimum of four times per month. Under the hybrid option, workers may only report as needed depending on their job tasks, and others still may work fully remotely.

“The agency chose to examine and develop policies that would allow for more flexibilities and more arrangements and that would apply to a greater number of employees,” Emmel said.

Employees will apply for the option that they think works best, managers will approve them and Emmel said he expects that process to continue implementation over the year. The union also said, as others have, that this benefits the agency’s ability to maintain and grow its workforce, especially as employees governmentwide have indicated they’re willing to job hunt if they’re forced to return to offices full time.

“It’s no secret that today’s professionals are looking for flexibility to manage and succeed in their work and their personal lives,” Emmel added. “And now the agency can advertise and offer these flexibilities, obviously not just for the current workforce for retention purposes, but also [for] recruit[ing] talented individuals.”

Other agencies have been pressured to increase in-person attendance in recent months, with lawmakers on Capitol Hill mixing concerns about empty commercial office space, poor customer service and backlogs with claims of “lazy” remote workers that unions and employees have said is unproven and offensive.

Like many structured telework agreements negotiated with agencies, GAO’s is regulated with guidelines for eligibility, supervisor approval and the acknowledgment that the circumstances may change and require an employee to report onsite to meet the mission.

“This really will depend on individual teams and work projects because those in-person needs will differ,” Emmel said. “GAO engagement can take many forms. In one report, we may be analyzing data. In others we’re doing site visits and focus groups with federal employees or service members or doing audit visits to different federal facilities to inspect conditions.”

GAO also uses its own unique compensation system, and the agreement modifies rules to allow for localities and pay scales that span the entire U.S. and not just where the headquarters office is located in Washington, D.C.

More than 3,000 employees work at GAO.

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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