A bill authored by a group of seven Republican senators plans to roll back remote work policies in federal and government agencies to pre-pandemic levels as they attempt to address agency backlogs that have increased since the covid-19 pandemic.

Back in February, The Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems Act (SHOW UP Act) passed through the House with a slim majority before a group of Republicans in the Senate led by Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn began filing a companion bill in the Senate, claiming that the covid-era policies are the result of backlogs in different government agencies. 

“As the public health emergency officially ends in the United States, so should the pandemic-era telework policies for federal bureaucrats,” she said. “I regularly hear from Tennesseans struggling to get ahold of a federal agency because of the massive backlog created by employees not being in the workplace. It’s illogical that VA employees are able to work from a bubble bath, while organizations across the country have safely reopened.”

The bill would force government agencies to return to telework levels and policies comparable to 2019, and any new related changes would need to be approved by the Office of Personnel Management and submitted to Congress before implementation. 

The bill also “[requires] federal agencies to complete and submit studies to Congress within six months detailing how pandemic-era telework levels impacted their missions—including adverse effects on customer service, network security, and costs for real property and locality pay.”

Some Republicans have claimed that the backlogs in government agencies like the Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service have been caused partially by covid-era remote work policies, with Florida Sen. Rick Scott criticizing the policies as “a waste of taxpayer dollars and inefficient.”

This claim has been disputed by federal employee groups and agency officials, who have said that much of the backlog has been created by adapting to such challenges as social distancing and understaffed agencies instead of telework policies. 

The Biden administration has been moving toward transitioning to more in-person work in government agencies recently, with White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Shalanda Young pushing for a substantial increase for “meaningful in-person work” in federal offices.

Despite this, many Republicans are unsatisfied with the pace that the White House has pushed the return to in-person work, with North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer claiming that many federal workers who were participating in remote work were doing so out of “laziness.”

“Executive agencies have used the covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for laziness for too long,” he said. “Our public servants should be doing just that — serving the public. Our bill ensures they come back to the office to do the work American taxpayers expect from them.”

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