President Biden Urges Cabinet to Bring Federal Employees Back to Office

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President Joe Biden is adamantly requesting that leaders of federal government agencies increase the number of employees who report for in-person work this fall.

“As we look toward the fall, and with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, your agencies will be implementing increases in the amount of in-person work for your team,” Jeff Zients, White House chief of staff, sent in an email to cabinet leaders on Aug. 4. “This is a priority of the President — and I am looking to each of you to aggressively execute this shift in September and October,” according to a report by Axios.

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The move comes after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a damning report in July, showing that federal office buildings are severely underused. Some agencies have less than 25 percent in-office attendance, and not a single one has more than 50 percent, per the report. 

The White House has previously called for the return to office. In April, the Office of Management and Budget ended maximum telework and sent instructions to agencies to develop plans to increase in-person work, hoping to alleviate some of the challenges that have developed. However, the guidelines gave agencies flexibility to continue their generous telework policies for many employees. 

Now, the White House is taking a stronger stance, as the rise of telecommuting since the pandemic has had a significant economic impact on many cities. Understandably, the transition to in-office work poses a challenge for workers who have become accustomed to remote work, Zients wrote.

“These changes will allow us to harness the benefits of enhanced flexibilities that we experienced during the pandemic, while ensuring we have the in-person time we need to build a strong culture, trust and interpersonal connections,” Zients said in the letter.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has also been very vocal about bringing people back to the office and believes it starts with the federal government. 

“We need decisive action by the White House to either get most federal workers back to the office most of the time, or to realign their vast property holdings for use by the local government, by nonprofits, by businesses and by any user willing to revitalize it,” she said in January, as she was sworn into her third term as Mayor.  

Other influential voices have also recently called on the Biden administration to step in. Following the release of the GAO report, the Wall Street Journal editorial board published an op-ed on the issue; just last week, billionaire media mogul and former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg published his own op-ed in the The Washington Post with the title: “The pandemic is over. Excuses for allowing offices to sit empty should end, too.” 

In New York, despite telling CEOs to call their staff back into the office, Mayor Eric Adams is allowing some city workers to work remotely. In June, his administration and District Council 37 agreed to launch a flexible work pilot program for city employees, allowing eligible employees to work from home for up to two days a week.

Keith Loria can be reached at kloria@commercialobserver.com.