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The 70% figure was derived by adding up responses to a federal employee survey. That figure includes full-time teleworkers and anyone who ever works from home, however infrequently.
Only about half that figure — 37% — worked a majority of the week remotely. Among all respondents, 46% said they rarely or never work remotely.
The percentage of federal government remote work is higher than it was before the pandemic, but remote work in private sector companies has risen, too. The federal government’s rate is broadly similar to that in private-sector industries in which remote work is feasible, such as information and professional and business services.
For many Americans, the coronavirus pandemic has receded into the past. But it wrought some lasting changes on the nation’s workforce — a point Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley described at a Jan. 2 town hall in Rye, New Hampshire.
Haley criticized the size of the federal budget and said some of the federal government’s duties can be shifted to the states. "Do you know right now over 70% of federal employees are still working from home three years after COVID?" she said.
Haley repeated the statistic Jan. 4 during a CNN town hall in Des Moines, Iowa.
Haley’s campaign confirmed that this data point came from a recently released annual study by the Office of Personnel Management, the agency that handles the federal government’s human resources.
However, the 70% figure misleads by leaving out important information: Only half of that figure involves people who said they worked remotely most or all of the workweek. The other half consists of employees who work two days or less per week from home, including some who do so "rarely."
Kevin Rockmann, a professor of management at George Mason University's Costello College of Business who has studied telework, said politicians often confuse measures of "telework" with measures of working entirely by telework, even though the two "are quite different."
Rockmann added that research shows benefits from telework, such as saving on commuting costs and enabling a better work-life balance.
"So the real debate is not the one Haley suggests," he said. "Most private companies are OK with one or two days of telework a week. The real debate is over full-time telework. This is where organizations are struggling a bit."
Every year, the federal government publishes a survey of employees from a wide range of federal agencies. The most recent survey, released in November 2023, queried about 1.6 million federal employees and received responses from more than 625,000.
One of the survey’s many questions involves remote work, also known as telework.
Thirty-seven percent of the 2023 survey’s respondents said they typically worked remotely from three to five days a week. Seventeen percent more said they worked remotely one or two days a week, while 46% said they did so rarely or never. (The 46% who rarely or never worked from home included employees whose jobs made remote work impossible and those who could have worked remotely but chose not to.)
To approach the figure Haley cited, you would have to include not just the 37% who work remotely three to five days a week, but also the 17% who work remotely one or two days a week; the 4% who said they telework one or two days a month; and the 10% who said they telework even less often than that. That adds up to 68%, which is close to the 70% figure she cited.
A little more than half of the federal employees Haley considers to be "working from home" do so from two days a week to "very infrequently."
Haley’s campaign argued the percentage of remote government work is still higher than it was pre-pandemic. Looking back to the 2019 survey, she has a point, mainly for those working a three-to-five day remote schedule. That number has risen from 7% in 2019 to 37% in 2023. (The share working remotely one or two days a week is virtually unchanged.)
But telework’s growth isn’t limited to the federal government. Telework has also expanded in other parts of the private-sector economy in which working remotely is feasible, such as information and professional and business services.
An analysis of Census Bureau data by the Government Accountability Office found that from 2010 to 2019, 4% to 6% of workers "primarily" worked at home, but that share jumped to almost 18% during the pandemic. And the share doing "any work from home during an average work day" rose from the low-20% range before the pandemic to 38% during it.
Comparing federal government telework patterns with those in the private sector is complicated, because different industry sectors, for practical reasons, cannot embrace telework equally. But some data suggests that federal government telework rates are similar to or lower than other economic sectors in which remote working is feasible.
In 2022, Bureau of Labor Statistics data found that 42% of information sector employees worked remotely all the time and an additional 25% worked remotely sometimes. In the professional and business services sector, 25% worked remotely fully and 24% worked remotely sometimes.
"Has there been a shift?" Rockmann said. "Yes. But it is not nearly the shift Haley suggests."
Haley said, "Right now, over 70% of federal employees are still working from home three years after COVID."
Getting to that 70% figure requires counting not just full-time teleworkers but anyone who ever works from home, however infrequently. In 2023, a benchmark federal survey found that about half that figure — 37% — worked a majority of their week remotely and about 17% worked remotely one or two days a week. But 46% of respondents said they worked remotely rarely or never.
Federal government telework is more common than it was before the pandemic, but it this work style has also increased in private sector companies. The federal government’s rate of teleworking is broadly similar to what it is in private-sector industries in which teleworking is feasible, such as information and professional and business services.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
Nikki Haley, remarks at a town hall event in Rye, N.H., Jan. 2, 2023
Office of Personnel Management, "Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results," 2023
Office of Personnel Management, "Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results," 2019
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Employees teleworked at least some of the time at 27.5 percent of private establishments in 2022," April 19, 2023
Government Accountability Office, "Telework: Growth Supported Economic Activity During the Pandemic, but Future Impacts Are Uncertain," July 26, 2023
Statement to PolitiFact from the Nikki Haley campaign, Jan. 4, 2024
Email interview with Kevin Rockmann, professor of management at George Mason University's Costello College of Business, Jan. 4, 2023
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