The U.S Department of the Interior will require employees in the Washington, D.C., area to report in-person more often later this winter.

Beginning Feb. 11, all employees in the National Capital Region will be required to work onsite at least five days per two-week pay period, according to an email sent to staff by Acting Deputy Secretary Laura Daniel-Davis and confirmed by a spokesperson Tuesday.

Employees of the department were required to report to their official duty stations at least twice per biweekly pay period, according to Interior’s policy.

In September, Interior managers and supervisors began returning to offices at the department’s direction. The current order now expands requirements to the rest of the workforce, drawing on updated guidance set by the Office of Management and Budget to meaningfully increase in-person work.

Many large departments have issued similar orders in recent months to call broad swaths of their workforces back to offices. Congress has made clear its frustration with federal agencies that continue to permit telework while office space goes unused, though that has been a problem plaguing agencies’ real estate portfolios for 20 years.

Unions and employees have responded online in forums like Reddit and in official statements that decisions to increase onsite work often feel arbitrary and unnecessary when the work can be done from home. Further, many agencies, including Interior, have acknowledged that flexible work options can be a boon for recruitment and morale.

A spokesperson for the department did not offer any further explanation for why the decision was made.

Governmentwide, more than two-thirds of federal employees are still teleworking at least occasionally, according to the Office of Personnel Management’s 2023 Federal Employee Viewpoints survey.

Nearly 90% of positions at the department were deemed telework eligible as of September 2022, according to employment data kept by OPM.

Several large and small agencies have moved to increase in-office work, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Department of Education, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Transportation, Department of Justice, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Small Business Administration, Health and Human Services, the Defense Logistics Agency and others.

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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