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.
WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - DECEMBER 11: Tom Vilsack, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Department of Agriculture, delivers remarks at the Queen Theater December 11, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. President-elect Joe Biden is continuing to round out his domestic team with the announcement of his choices for cabinet secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Agriculture, and the heads of his domestic policy council and the U.S. Trade Representative. Vilsack served for eight years as President Barack Obama’s secretary of Agriculture. (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.

Billy Mitchell

Written by Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell is Vice President of Community and Content and Editor in Chief of FedScoop and DefenseScoop. He leads an award-winning team of reporters in providing breaking news and analysis on the ways technology is transforming the operations and services of the federal government and U.S. military. Prior to joining Scoop News Group in early 2014, Mitchell embedded himself in Washington, D.C.'s tech startup scene for a year as a tech reporter at InTheCapital, now known as DC Inno. After earning his degree at Virginia Tech and winning the school's Excellence in Print Journalism award, Mitchell received his master's degree from New York University in magazine writing while interning at publications like Rolling Stone.

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