The Subcommittee on Government Operations of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing today in which members of Congress explored how to build a stronger Federal workforce.

During the hearing, the subcommittee explored initiatives such as leveraging Federal internships as talent pools for early career civil servants, as well as offering greater workplace flexibilities and benefits, such as telework, to attract top-level talent.

Early Career Talent

Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., noted that only about 6.9 percent of Federal employees are under the age of 30 and nearly 30 percent of Federal employees are over the age of 55, with potentially one-third of the Federal workforce eligible to retire over the next few years.

Rep. Connolly introduced the Building the Next Generation of Federal Employees Act, or the NextGen Feds Act, today as a “foundational component” of his efforts to attract early career individuals into government and help to replace the huge wave of retiring employees.

“The bill codifies existing successful internship programs and brings uniformity and basic best practices to other Federal internships across the government,” Rep. Connolly said.

“The bill seeks to ensure that all Federal interns are paid. These provisions ensure that internships are not only available to students whose parents can afford to pay for them to live and work near Federal agencies,” he added. “Also, importantly, paying interns ensures they have protections against discrimination and workplace harassment, and protections against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Connolly’s bill is endorsed by the National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE), whose president, Ken Thomas, served as a witness at the hearing.

“We must improve Federal internship programs. The NextGen Feds Act would help to do so and I applaud Chairman Connolly for his leadership,” Thomas said. “Ensuring interns are paid opens the door to recruiting a more diverse set of individuals into services.”

Telework

As for telework, Connolly praised the Biden administration’s expansion of increased telework opportunities, noting that preliminary findings show that the move to telework largely increased employee productivity.

Rep. Connolly said he “eagerly” awaits the Administration’s pending 2020 telework report “to provide data and evidence that demonstrate the increased use and increased benefits of telework.”

He also noted that he will soon introduce the Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act, “which would, among other things, prohibit agency leaders from unilaterally prohibiting telework and require agencies to quantify and report on the costs savings incurred through increased telework.”

However, Ranking Member Jody Hice, R-Ga., claimed that the Federal workforce’s slow return to physical offices and the expansion of telework have a negative impact on service to the American people.

“The Biden administration has made clear it wants expanded telework and remote work to be a permanent part of the Federal landscape, using the practices of the private sector and the need to recruit as rationales. But there are differences between the private sector and Federal agencies, and we need to keep these in mind,” Hice said. “How can we be sure agency missions won’t slip in the drive to provide more and more telework and remote working arrangements?”

While Hice disagreed on the nature of telework with Connolly, he did agree with him regarding the internship aspect of the NextGen Feds Act.

“I will say making it easier to identify internships and scholarships across Federal agencies might make sense,” Rep. Hice said. “But I want to learn more about the other various provisions in the bill as we move forward.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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