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We audited the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) transitioning of offices from mandatory to maximum telework during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, based on a request from Representative Gerald Connolly, to review whether HUD was employing best practices and existing guidance when deciding whether or when to require Federal employees to return to their offices.  Transitioning an office to maximum telework allowed HUD employees to voluntarily return to an office.

We focused our audit on whether HUD complied with its internal Resuming Normal Operations Guide, COVID-19 Response, for Headquarters and Field Offices (Guide) when transitioning offices from mandatory to maximum telework during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Specifically, our audit objective was to determine whether the memorandums that HUD’s regional administrators and Assistant Secretary for Administration submitted to the Deputy Secretary, which recommended allowing the voluntary reentry of employees to HUD’s offices (reentry memorandums), sufficiently addressed the criteria in HUD’s Guide regarding the transition to maximum telework.

HUD issued its Guide in June 2020 to provide a framework to resume normal operations safely and efficiently, including transitioning offices from mandatory to maximum telework.  The Guide detailed gating criteria, data-driven conditions that geographic areas were to satisfy before proceeding to phased openings, and required checklist tasks that were to be met before HUD transitioned offices to maximum telework.  However, HUD did not always comply with its Guide when transitioning its offices.  Specifically, the reentry memorandums reviewed for seven selected offices that transitioned did not sufficiently address the gating criteria.  HUD also did not (1) provide sufficient documentation to support that the gating criteria were met and (2) establish metrics for determining whether the offices met the gating criteria to transition.  Further, regional administrators for two offices recommended transitioning the offices, although all tasks required had not been completed.  These conditions occurred because HUD did not have sufficient policies and controls to ensure that (1) applicable gating criteria were met in the geographic areas where offices were located and (2) required checklist tasks were sufficiently completed, before transitioning offices.  As a result, HUD lacked assurance that its offices were transitioned to maximum telework in accordance with its Guide and in a consistent manner.

We recommend that the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration ensure that future policies and guidance developed to return HUD’s offices to normal operations include the specific criteria, metrics, and defined geographic area to be used by all offices as applicable.  We also recommend that the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration develop and implement sufficient policies and controls to ensure that (1) applicable criteria in any future guidance are met and all safety measures are sufficiently completed before returning HUD’s offices to normal operations and (2) sufficient documentation is maintained to support that the applicable criteria were met.