Vilsack looks to return USDA to more-liberal telework policy

Tom Vilsack said he's moving USDA back to a telework policy of allowing up to four days of remote work a week, which he rolled out in 2014 during his prior tenure.
Tom Vilsack delivers remarks at the Queen Theater December 11, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Pandemic or not, Secretary Tom Vilsack wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture to have a more flexible telework policy in line with what it had the last time he was in charge.

During his first tenure as Agriculture secretary under President Obama, Vilsack’s USDA moved to a telework policy in 2014 that allowed employees to work remotely up to four days a week. But in 2018, Sonny Perdue took the agency in a dramatically different direction, dialing the policy back to allow only one day of telework a week.

Vilsack told 17,000 USDA employees during a virtual town hall last Thursday that he plans to return the department to the prior policy, a USDA spokesperson confirmed to FedScoop. Vilsack hosted the town hall, the first one in his return to the role, roughly just over a week after his Senate confirmation.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced federal offices to send employees home for mostly full-time telework beginning last March, it has also caused agency leaders to rethink what normal work will look like when it’s safe to return the workforce to physical office spaces. And for Vilsack, four-days-a-week telework is just the “starting point,” the spokesperson said.


“USDA will embrace workplace flexibilities – to include increased telework, expanded use of virtual and remote duty stations, and enhanced work schedule flexibilities,” the spokesperson said. “This will allow us to recruit and retain the absolute best talent which will make USDA an employer of choice. This will be one of our highest management priorities.”

Not only does such a policy provide the benefit of opening the aperture on talent recruiting and retention, but it would also save federal dollars, the spokesperson said.

Moving forward, USDA will seek the input of union partners, employees and their supervisors, stakeholders, and congressional leaders about the next steps.

This story was featured in FedScoop Special Report: The Future of Telework - A FedScoop Special Report

Billy Mitchell

Written by Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell is Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of Scoop News Group's editorial brands. He oversees operations, strategy and growth of SNG's award-winning tech publications, FedScoop, StateScoop, CyberScoop, EdScoop and DefenseScoop. After earning his journalism degree at Virginia Tech and winning the school's Excellence in Print Journalism award, Billy received his master's degree from New York University in magazine writing while interning at publications like Rolling Stone.

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