Perdue tells USDA employees to be in the office 4 days per week |

Perdue tells USDA employees to be in the office 4 days per week

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has issued a directive that all employees must work in their offices four days per week and can telework only two days per pay period, angering some employees who have been teleworking more than that for years.

The directive gave U.S. Department of Agriculture employees 30 days to make themselves available under the new schedule.

The Hagstrom Report obtained a copy of a USDA “frequently asked questions” fact sheet in which the telework directive is only part of a larger personnel initiative known as OneUSDA that will involve other changes in the coming months.

“OneUSDA is a call to action, an operating model, a reminder to all of us that we are part of one team, working together to provide the best service to our customers,” the memo begins.

The memo also stated there are changes to personnel directives including “delegations for the Office of the General Counsel regarding settlement agreements.”

On teleworking, the memo stated the Trump administration believes employees need to be in the office to serve the public and to interact with each other.

“As part of the OneUSDA initiative, we are requiring a greater physical presence in all USDA offices. We recognize the importance and value of telework. We also want to encourage greater collaboration and provide the best customer service to both internal and external stakeholders. We believe this change will make us more accountable to the American taxpayer and more accountable to one another,” according to the memo.

But a USDA civil servant said, “People are complaining about suddenly, without warning, having to find pre-school and post-school baby sitters, changing (if possible) trade-off arrangements with spouses, finding car pools, costs of commuting. Many feel dismissed and ambushed, and are looking for jobs elsewhere.”

The employee also maintained the change “will put large numbers of employees back in their cars and back on the Metro and will increase direct costs of the department due to travel subsidies provided to employees. This says nothing of the disruption it will cause for people working these schedules for several years.”

Asked to respond to the criticism, a USDA spokesperson said “USDA’s telework policy is designed to be responsible to the taxpayers and responsive to the customers who depend on our services. It is also respectful of our fellow employees who come to work each day. This is just one part of Secretary Perdue’s OneUSDA philosophy, which promotes USDA as one family, working together as a single team to serve the American people.”

“Employees will be permitted to telework two days per pay period and must be at their duty station four days each week. When telework is used to address space availability restrictions, such as the use of hoteling or desk-sharing, supervisors may approve telework exceeding two days per pay period on a case-by-case basis,” the directive said.

Perdue is not the first agriculture secretary to use the OneUSDA concept. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also used it in the Obama administration to try to encourage employees to overcome the divisions among USDA’s mission areas. But the spokesperson said the new initiative is not a continuation of past policy.

“Secretary Perdue’s vision of OneUSDA is unrelated to policies of previous administrations,” the spokesperson said.

An Office of Personnel Management report released in 2016 showed the percentage of USDA employees working from home varied among the divisions, but a large number of USDA employees do telecommute.

Since President Barack Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, government agencies have encouraged working from home, and OPM maintains a special teleworking website whose motto is “Teleworking has never been more important.”

The 2016 report said agencies “have made progress in their use of telework. This progress includes improvements in telework participation, telework tracking, use of telework to achieve effectiveness goals, and leadership support for telework programs.”

“While telework eligibility remained stable in recent years, telework participation has continued to increase steadily … Results from OPM’s Telework Data Call show that telework is enabling agencies to achieve outcomes such as recruitment, retention, performance, environmental benefits, emergency preparedness and cost savings.”

The directive is department-wide, but Anne Hazlett, the assistant to the secretary for rural development, issued her own memo advising employees in her mission area that Perdue had laid out his goals. ❖