House approves telework provision

House lawmakers moved Aug. 4 to expand the federal telework program by approving several provisions that would force agencies to formalize and bolster their current telecommuting programs.

The legislation came in the form of an amendment from Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) to the House's energy-efficiency bill. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2007 would mandate that agencies appoint a full-time, senior-level employee to coordinate the program as the telework managing officer.

Agencies would also face annual teleworker program ratings and have to make telework training mandatory. The goal is to ensure 'that eligible employees participate in telework to the maximum extent possible without diminishing employee performance or agency operations,' the amendment states.

The Sarbanes amendment was supported by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who represents a congressional district near Washington that is filled with federal employees and roadway congestion. Wolf has long been one of the most vocal proponents of federal telework programs.

The provisions represent a significant step forward because they address telework training, and current policies do not force agencies to have a complete definition of who can and cannot telework. Current rules also do not require agencies to have a full-time employee overseeing the program, a Wolf aide said.

The amendment is similar to the Senate's Telework Enhancement Act of 2007, which has drawn praise from telework advocates.

Telework proponents on both sides of the aisle say telework has environmental benefits such as reducing vehicle emissions and can also improve employee recruitment and retention and prepares agencies for emergencies by dispersing employees and technology as part of continuity-of-operations planning.

Wolf's aide said the Sarbanes legislation is a positive step, but it is still unclear whether the bill will become law because other components of the House's energy efficiency legislation, such as eliminating several tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry, have drawn the ire of Republican senators and the Bush administration.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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