Lawmaker pushes telework

Every morning, thousands of federal workers sit in traffic on their way to work partly because agency officials are not doing enough to help employees telework, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said.

Wolf addressed the issue this year by sponsoring a telework provision in the fiscal 2005 omnibus spending bill. The provision withholds as much as $5 million from a number of agencies until officials there devise plans to offer telework opportunities

to every eligible employee. Beginning in January 2005, agency officials have 90 days to create the plans.

The provision affects some workers at the Commerce, Justice and State departments, the Small Business Administration, the Bureau of Prisons, the federal judiciary and the Securities and Exchange Commission, among others.

"The entire federal workforce is running behind," said J.T. Griffin, Wolf's legislative assistant.

Although legislation that Wolf sponsored in 2000 mandated an increase in telework opportunities by 2005, the results have been poor, Griffin said. A report released earlier this year by the Office of Personnel Management shows that only 6 percent of federal employees work from home or a telework center at least once a week.

Wolf's latest effort requires agency officials to appoint a telework coordinator to determine which employees are eligible for the work option.

"These departments and agencies — and the federal government, in general — need to make a bigger commitment to teleworking," Wolf said. "I am hoping that withholding funds until they prove they have an effective program will serve as an incentive."

Wolf represents a suburb of Washington, D.C., where a growing population often brings rush-hour traffic to a crawl. For years, he has been an advocate of telework options for federal employees.

He's not alone, according to officials at Catalyst, a New York-based think tank that focuses on workplace issues for women. Catalyst researchers conducted a recent survey and found that men and women in the private sector want to telecommute or work from home.

"Though we can't definitively say why more people aren't telecommuting, many people fear that using a flexible work arrangement will jeopardize career advancement," said Meredith Cosgrove, Catalyst's media relations specialist. Only 15 percent of women and 20 percent of men think they can use a flexible work arrangement without jeopardizing their advancement, she said.

Wolf agrees it's time for a change. "With all the advances in technology today," he said, "there is just no reason to strap yourself in a metal box every morning only to drive to an office where you sit in front of a computer all day."

Signs of the times

Both men and women like the idea of telework, and they are slowly taking advantage of such opportunities.

* 13 percent of women and 12 percent of men who work in the private sector telecommute or work from home.

* 23 percent of women and 15 percent of men who work in the private sector say they would like to telecommute or work from home.

Source: Catalyst

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