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Newsom’s Budget Cuts Funding to State Telework Office

The governor’s 2024-25 budget does not include funding to maintain the Telework Compliance Office, within the Department of General Services. Many agencies have already started calling back their remote employees.

(TNS) — The future of California’s telework compliance office is murky as many state employees — for many, much to their dismay — begin returning to their offices this month.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2024-25 budget includes no funding for the state’s Telework Compliance Office, housed within the Department of General Services. The office oversaw the rollout of telework during the COVID-19 pandemic and is best known for publishing state telework data on an online portal.

The potential shuttering of the telework program office marks a stark reversal for an agency and administration that once heralded telework as “the new normal” and vowed to slash state costs by cutting leases and selling off state-owned properties.

The closure comes as several departments and agencies — including those for employment development, environmental protection and health and human services — call their employees back to the office twice per week. Unions have vowed to use what little legal power they have ever to prevent the return of in-person work.

When asked what the lack of funding could mean for the future of state telework, both CalHR and DGS sent a vague written statement that claimed “the future of the telework program is under consideration” due in part to the expiration of funding for limited term positions at the end of the current fiscal year. The agencies pointed to “the number of employees who have returned to in-person work” as a second reason for weighing the future of the telework program office.

DGS did not answer questions about whether the department would continue to maintain and update the online telework data dashboard — or if it would shut the site down permanently.

The dashboard currently presents the most comprehensive picture of which departments are teleworking the most, how many state employees are teleworking each month and roughly how many days per week those workers are at home versus in the office. Additionally, the webpage tries to quantify the upsides of teleworking by estimating the number of miles, minutes, gallons of gasoline and tons of carbon emissions saved per state employee.

Such a repository of telework data could present a challenge to an administration that, despite the lack of an official mandate, has encouraged state departments and agencies to reintroduce some in-person work as part of a new hybrid model.

“Our office believes there is significant value from in-person work that should be considered along with the benefits of telework,” Erin Mellon, the governor’s communications director, said previously in a statement.

How the state’s Telework Compliance Office came to be

Although the COVID-19 pandemic was the first major rollout of telework in state service, California enshrined telework as an official state policy more than 30 years ago. The law instructed the Department of General Services to establish a task force with the sole purpose of implementing, monitoring and evaluating the state’s telework program.

It wasn’t until fiscal year 2022-23 that the team had much of a staff, though.

In a budget change proposal, DGS argued it needed $1.9 million and 10 full-time positions to “ensure consistency across state government as we pivot to the ‘new normal’ and deliver critical services for all Californians in a distributed work environment.”

The request rehashed how Newsom’s office rubber-stamped an updated telework policy in July 2020 and, in the following years, encouraged departments and agencies to embrace telework as a cost-cutting method. It pointed out how the Government Operations Agency used one-time funds in June 2021 to train more than 24,000 supervisors and managers on how to build a results-oriented culture and effectively work with their remote teams. (CalHR also procured an outside contract to provide continuing education to these managers at a reasonable cost, the budget request said.)

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Newsom administration advised departments to maximize telework to the greatest extent possible and ensure that post-COVID-19, departments continue to embrace telework as part of the state culture to achieve long-term efficiencies,” read the DGS budget request.

Newsom answered the call by earmarking slightly more than the requested $1.9 million for 2022-23 and 2023-24. But the funding does not appear in the 2024-25 proposed budget.

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