February 22, 2024

Top-level leaders and managers will be working onsite at the Small Business Administration more often this fall, the agency announced last week.

Senior Executive Service employees and all political appointees will transition to working in-person five days per pay period starting Sept. 25 ”to build a foundation for the future of work at SBA,” a spokesperson said.

Then, starting Nov. 5, that requirement will kick in for currently teleworking managers and supervisors assigned to the agency headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Previously, all employees across the agency only had to report to the office twice every two weeks.

The announcement does not impact remaining employees working in field offices or outside of the Washington, D.C.-metro area.

“We will continue to assess and respond to [Office of Management and Budget]’s whole-of-government approach to ensure a continued shift to increase in-person work across the whole of SBA,” the spokesperson said.

About 84% of SBA’s positions are classified as eligible for telework, according to 2022 data kept by the Office of Personnel Management.

The push comes on the heels of several White House memos so far that have urged agency leaders to “meaningfully” increase in-person work, despite federal employees insisting that a one-size-fits-all reentry policy will further incentivize employees to seek other jobs that maintain hybrid or remote work options.

A survey by Federal Times of more than 900 workers found that half of respondents applied for a new job since 2021 when agencies were first told to initiate return-to-office plans. Of those, nearly 60% said they’ve conducted at least one interview.

In forums online, employees have said they’re not surprised by the announcement, though one user on Reddit said policies like this will encourage the most experienced cadre of workers at SBA to retire.

Whether or not that really happens remains to be seen. And in the meantime, federal unions representing a combined 1.2 million non-postal federal employees say their independently negotiated telework agreements should safeguard employees from unilaterally made changes to working conditions.

At the same time, Republican lawmakers in particular have lambasted agencies for continuing telework through a series of letters and Congressional hearings, with another scheduled for Sept. 14.

“According to President Biden, the COVID pandemic has been over for 11 months. Why the federal government is just now planning on getting back to work is beyond me,” said Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Small Business Williams, in a statement on Aug. 14. “Even though Main Street has long been back to work, the SBA is still allowing its employees to only come into work twice a week. It’s time they start marching to the same tune.

“I sincerely hope Administrator Guzman listens to the American people and reconsiders her policy of remote work so that all small businesses can better receive the assistance they need,” he said.

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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