Connolly presses for legislation on telework, internships and OPM
By Natalie Alms
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) is hoping to pass a raft of new legislation governing the federal workforce and the operations of the Office of Personnel Management.
Connolly, who chairs the Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Committee of Oversight and Reform introduced a bill on Wednesday to “promote federal internships and fellowships to prepare the next generation of federal employees, and for other purposes.”
One major piece is a requirement that all federal interns be paid.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues to enact my internship legislation, but also to explore other ways we can enhance and improve the federal workplace and create a more vibrant and diverse federal employee population as we start to replace the generation that is about to retire,” Connolly said at a Dec. 1 subcommittee hearing.
Connolly’s proposed legislation would also establish an internship and fellowship center in the Office of Personnel Management and mandate the creation of an online platform as one central information source on federal internships.
The bill would also give hiring advantages to interns that work for at least a year, and would require OPM to establish a pilot program focused on recruiting employees from underrepresented communities into federal service.
Top subcommittee Republican Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) said of the new internship bill that “making it easier to identify internships and scholarships across federal agencies - there’s a lot of merit to that,” and continued to say that he wanted to learn more about its other provisions.
The Biden administration laid down increasing federal internships as an administration goal in its FY 2022 budget proposal. The government’s HR office has already issued regulations meant to facilitate the hiring of early career college graduates and the paying of interns.
Connolly’s forthcoming Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act, would “prohibit agency leaders from unilaterally prohibiting telework and require agency agencies to quantify and report on the cost savings incurred through increased telework,” he said.
Leveraging the use of telework and remote work is another goal of the administration and core priority for OPM leadership.
Republican lawmakers expressed concern about the efficacy of government telework long term.
“The basic question is, couldn’t the Biden administration eventually be running into a risk of new fraud, abuse is perhaps the better word, in the teleworking and remote working system? Are we running a risk by moving forward with this without doing more research and having more metrics in place?” Hice asked.
He pointed to the Social Security Administration as an example of the lack of in-person services hampering agencies’ abilities to provide services and to a watchdog report on remote work and security from the Department of Defense.
Michelle Amante, vice president for federal workforce programs at the Partnership for Public Service said that, “certainly depending on the agency’s mission and the type of work the agency performs, fraud always has to be considered,” adding, “but I don’t think we should start with the premise that there will absolutely be fraud. I think establishing performance metrics is the key.”
Amante also linked telework to employee engagement, pointing to the most recent results from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Last year, engagement increased “largely due to flexible work schedules, the ability to telework and an acknowledgement from their supervisors that flexibility did not affect productivity,” she said. “I do believe that telework can be a successful tool.”
Connolly said during the hearing that he agreed with Hice on the need for metrics.
He told FCW that his bill will target both goals for teleworking levels, but also metrics for productivity.
In regards to measuring productivity, “we recognize one size will not fit all, but we have to have some kind of reasonable set of metrics,” he said, continuing on to say that more metrics could convince skeptics that telework works.
Lawmakers also talked about a recent bill from Connolly targeting OPM, including a provision that OPM directors be nonpartisan, which is going to be considered in a committee markup tomorrow.
Hice drew out concerns that “the bill’s attempt to depoliticize OPM diminishes the president's ability to choose leaders who carry out his or her vision... If OPM is going to be the federal agency deciding personnel policy issues and strategies, then it needs to reflect the beliefs and wishes of the chief executive.”
Connolly pushed back.
“I would not make any apology for Congress asserting its right to limit executive politicization of the HR agency of the federal government ... but we will debate that later,” he said.
To view the story as it appeared on FCW, click here.