March 17, 2020

Udall, Democratic Senators Urge Trump to Order Maximum Telework for Federal Workers

Senators urge federal government to set an example by heeding public health experts’ recommendations during Coronavirus pandemic

New Mexico is home to over 21,900 civilian federal employees

Following senators’ letter, Trump Administration further directs federal agencies outside DC to move to telework status

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), along with 26 of his colleagues, sent a letter to President Trump urging him to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to utilize telework capabilities to the maximum extent possible. While the Trump administration had issued guidance recommending agencies expand their telework capabilities, too many federal employees have been required to come to work in-person, contrary to public health expert advice for the coronavirus pandemic, when telework options exists to do their job from home. As the Centers for Disease Control and other public health experts strongly recommend practicing social-distancing, the federal government should lead by example and cease all policies that could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus and thus endanger the health and safety of its employees and the broader public. 

After the senators’ letter was sent on Monday, the Trump administration issued further directions to federal agencies to expand telework to federal offices outside the D.C. region. With its important federal facilities and significant public lands, there are over 21,900 federal civilian employees in New Mexico, according to the White House Office of Personnel Management.

“We urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to use telework to the maximum extent practicable in light of the COVID-19 emergency. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies to increase telework flexibility in the National Capital Region, but your order should be a clear direction – rather than general guidance – and it should be worldwide in scope,” wrote the senators. 

They continue, “Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government. You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions.” 

The senators close the letter, noting, “Voluntary guidance is not enough – agencies need clear orders. In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and we hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in our states on a daily basis.”

In addition to Udall, the letter was signed by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

The full text of the letter is available here and below: 

Dear President Trump,

We urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to use telework to the maximum extent practicable in light of the COVID-19 emergency. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies to increase telework flexibility in the National Capital Region, but your order should be a clear direction – rather than general guidance – and it should be worldwide in scope. State and local governments have been far more proactive than the federal Executive Branch in making arrangements for their employees to telework where possible. We have maximized teleworking in our Senate Offices. You should order Executive agencies to do the same. We must lead by example. 

Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government. You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions.

You should order agencies to immediately rescind all cuts to telework made since 2016. In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, 21% of federal employees participated in telework – a slight decline after years of steady increases from 14% in 2012. In 2017, 43% of employees were telework-eligible, so allowing all of them to telework during this emergency would make an immediate difference.

These telework directives should apply to federal workers throughout the United States and to other countries where there are cases of COVID-19. In the National Capital Region, 40% of Metro commuters during morning rush hour are federal employees, and these crowded trains and buses pose a major risk for COVID-19 transmission. But COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and only 15% of federal employees work in the National Capital Region. The federal government should not wait until an area already has widespread community transmission of COVID-19 to act. 

Voluntary guidance is not enough – agencies need clear orders. In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and we hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in our states on a daily basis. 

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.