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Teleworking DOD civilians may be recalled to in-person work

Kathleen Hicks. (State Department photo/Released)

Defense Department civilians who have been teleworking amid the pandemic may be recalled to in-person work, according to a Thursday memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.

But Hicks also praised telework, which expanded to unprecedented levels in the past two years, and appeared to endorse its continued broad use.

“Continuation of flexibilities used during the COVID-19 pandemic increases the DOD’s efficiency and effectiveness, as well as allows the Department to better attract and retain those with the necessary skills and abilities needed to accomplish current and future missions,” she wrote.

Entitled “DoD Workplace Guidance for Final Reentry of DoD Civilian Personnel,” Hicks’ three-page memo broadly directs supervisors to begin talking with their civilian employees about “reentry plans,” which should be crafted to reflect “organizational needs, the Health Protection Condition framework, and force health protection guidance.”

The memo instructs supervisors of two kinds of civilian employees—those who have worked remotely full-time since the pandemic began, and those who “have had work schedules that differ from their organization’s regular schedules, such as shift work to maintain physical distancing or a flexible schedule related to dependent care”—to start planning and discussing any changes to their telework policies. Supervisors must give people in these groups at least 30 days’ written notice of changes unless there is “an urgent and compelling mission need,” the memo says.

Supervisors can “adjust the work locations and work schedules” for other employees without any advance notice—again, “based on organizational needs, the Health Protection Condition framework, and force health protection guidance,” the memo says.

The memo adds that the defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness is “reviewing and incorporating flexibilities such as telework into the Department’s civilian employee human capital strategies and personnel policies. These actions will improve the DoD civilian employee experience and leverage innovation and productivity gained through flexible workplace policies.”

Last year, the Pentagon’s inspector general surveyed 56,000 members of the DOD workforce and found that they largely preferred telework, despite connectivity problems early in the pandemic. Other government agencies have made clear signals that they aim to maintain telework capabilities, such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new hybrid work efforts.

DOD civilians were hit hardest by COVID-19: 411 are known to have died of the disease, four times as many military personnel who died.

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