Telework: Senate gives unanimous thumbs up

Federal agencies to set up telework policies, name coordinators

The Senate has approved legislation to expand telework opportunities for federal employees, scoring a victory for telework supporters after a setback for a similar bill in the House earlier this month.

By unanimous consent, on May 24 the Senate passed the Telework Enhancement Act (S. 707) sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

The bill grants federal employees presumptive eligibility to telework and would require that all federal agencies establish telework policies, designate a telework manager and ensure that telework is part of continuity-of-operations planning.

Akaka said the bill recognizes the importance of flexible work arrangements during snowstorms; Voinovich added that it reflects the changing needs of employees, according to a news release.

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"The federal government must acknowledge that the next generation of employees will have different expectations of what it means to go to work," said Voinovich. "Advancements in technology mean employees will expect to be able to work at any time from any place.”

Cindy Auten, general manager of Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership that promotes telework, said today the Senate passage was an important step because it followed a year in which the Senate did not take action on a similar telework bill.

“This shows a lot of momentum for telework,” Auten said. “It is a strong bill and very significant for the federal telework community.”

Meanwhile, Auten and other supporters are hopeful that the companion legislation in the House, the Telework Improvements Act sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), will come to the House Floor in June for a simple majority vote.

On May 6, the House failed to pass the Sarbanes telework bill. The House voted under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for approval. The vote was 268-147.

One difference is that the House bill has language that would make federal workers eligible to telework 20 percent of their schedule, while the Senate bill does not contain such a restriction, Auten said. The goal of that language is to ensure that teleworking occurs on a regular basis to maximize the benefits, Auten said.

One factor that contributed to the House setback was concern about the potential costs of teleworking, Auten added. Although the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of the legislation as $30 million over five years, John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management recently claimed $30 million in estimated productivity was retained due to teleworking during this winter's snowstorms.

The Senate telework bill includes an amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that would expand an existing telework pilot program in the Patent and Trademark Office.

The Senate bill would also allow agencies, with the approval of the General Services Administration, to create travel expense test programs to accommodate teleworking employees who live beyond an immediate commuting area.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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