Telework bill finally on president's desk

Some lawmakers said the bill is common sense, but others said it would do little to promote telework

The House passed legislation today that would require the Office of Personnel Management to draw up formal policies and standards related to telework at federal agencies.

The House agreed to the Senate’s changes to the original bill by a vote of 254-152. The Senate passed its version of the measure in September. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama.

Under the House bill (H.R. 1722), OPM would have to help agencies set policies to let employees work from home or at other locations outside their offices. Agencies would need OPM’s guidance regarding pay, leave and performance management. OPM would work with agencies on establishing goals and other ways to measure the policy’s usefulness.

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Agencies would also be required to consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on continuity-of-operations plans for situations such as the record snowfall last winter in the Washington, D.C., area that shut down the government for several days.

The bill also includes punishments for poor conduct. Federal employees could be prohibited from teleworking if they have been officially disciplined for bad behavior, such as downloading pornography or missing work without permission for more than five days in a year.

Furthermore, Office of Management and Budget, homeland security and technology officials would have to draft policies on information security safeguards for government systems that teleworkers would use. OMB would also have to issue guidance on buying appropriate computers for employees who telework.

Currently, 102,900 of the 1.9 million federal employees regularly work remotely. Of the total workforce, 62 percent are eligible to telework. To encourage the practice, the Obama administration has set a goal of having 150,000 government employees teleworking on a regular basis by 2011.

In debate today, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said telework saves money and gives the government the flexibility to continue working under all sorts of circumstances.

“It creates a nimbleness for the federal government,” he said.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who has advocated for telework for 18 years, said the legislation would make the government operate more like the private sector. To the lawmakers who disagreed with the bill, he pointed out their work habits.

“Everyone in this institution teleworks,” Wolf said.

However, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said the bill does little to boost the use of telework, which is already in place. She said it would not facilitate telework but add more bureaucracy to it.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Fri, Dec 10, 2010

I am excited to see what the future will bring with this new bill. I am skeptic like some of the above that managers will offer this to employees, and I'm afraid if they do it'll be to a select few. But only time will tell. As far as the above comment about lazy Government employees, shame on you. If my coworkers are not answering their phones in my profession it is because the are working and either on another line, away from their desk, or on a hot tasking.

Fri, Nov 26, 2010

The majority of government employees aren't really working a full day anyhow. If you don't believe me, just try to call a Contracting Officer or a Technical Representative in the government. You are unlikely to get an answer or even a return telephone call. The Union protects the employees from having to be responsive to the public they are paid to serve. Telework will just give one more reason for the government employees not to return telephone calls.

Sat, Nov 20, 2010 Upper Marlboro, MD

Telework will be a much welcomed blessing to the Federal establishment as long as micro managers don't sabotage it. There has to be an objective and unbias telework program manager that gives the final word on who should be approved for teleworking. My present program manager has already made it clear that she doesn't like me mainly because I lack the ability to be a butt kisser and speakout when I feel it is appropriate. I telework one day a week and recently requested to telework an additional day a week. I was abruptly shot down by my manager and told that she didn't trust me and that "telework is an employee privilege granted by the supervisor and not a right."

Sat, Nov 20, 2010 Kate Lister

The staggering costs of lost productivity from federal workers during last Winter's snowstorms--estimated by the government at $71 million a day--would pay for the five year cost of a telework program for federal workers (estimated by OPM at $30 million) in just one snow day. Based on assumptions from a 2006 study commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration (conducted by Booz Allen), the Telework Research Network's Telework Savings Calculator shows that if those eligible employees who wanted to work from home did so just one day a week: Agencies would: - Increase productivity by over $4.6 billion each year - equivalent to 26,000 man years of work - Save $850 million in annual real estate, electricity, and related costs - Save $2.3 billion in annual absenteeism - Save $3.1 billion in annual employee turnover - Improve continuity of operations - Improve work life balance and better address the needs of families, parents, and senior caregivers. - Avoid the ‘brain drain’ effect of retiring boomers by allowing them to work flexibly - Be able to recruit and retain the best people - Offer fuller employment for disabled workers, rural residents, and military families Federal Employees would: - Achieve a better work-life balance - Save $800-$2,700/year in transportation and work-related expenses - Collectively save 114 million gallons of gas / year - Suffer fewer illnesses The Nation would: - Save almost 6 million barrels and $465 million in imported oil - Reduce greenhouse gases by 1 million tons/year—the equivlient of taking 193,000 cars off the road - Reduce road travel by 2.3 billion miles/year - Reduce road congestion thereby increasing productivity for non-teleworkers as well - Save over 1,900 people from traffic-related injury or death each year and save $234 million a year in related costs - Improve emergency responsiveness - Reduce pollution from road work and new office construction - Preserve open spaces - Alleviate the strain on our crumbling transportation infrastructure - Reduce terrorism targets of opportunity The government savings per telecommuter would total over $7,300/participant per year. Across all new telecommuters that would save $15 billion a year! It's time we made the road less traveled the way to work. (TM) Kate Lister, Principal Researcher

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 The Observer

There should also be punishment for the micro-micro-managers that decide not to comply with the mandate.

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