Republicans target telework bill for oversight

GOP Rep. Issa promises scrutiny for programs

Just as legislation expected to greatly widen opportunities for telework nears passage, Republican lawmakers are vowing to strengthen its oversight provisions -- a move that supporters fear could put the brakes on progress.

The bill, called the the Telework Enhancement Act, requires agency leaders to establish policies and guidelines for employees to work from home or another off-site location. The legislation, which enjoyed bipartisan support, was sponsored by Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

Now that the bill has passed though Congress, however, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the likely chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee when the next Congress convenes in January, plans to try to restore some of the oversight provisions that were cut by the Senate, reports "Hillicon Valley," The Hill's technology blog.

"Critics, including Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) have argued the bill's cost is too high and [that it] rewards federal workers with additional benefits at a time when government must tighten its belt," writes Hill reporter Gautham Nagesh in the blog. "Republicans were also upset the final bill doesn't include oversight provisions included in an earlier version of the bill passed by the House in July such as a rule that requires agencies to prove their telework program saves money."

Issa said the telework bill is "a new bureaucratic mandate within the federal regime."

Blogger Ann All, writing at IT Business Edge, said the bill Issa and other Republicans are objecting to is "essentially the same as one introduced by Republicans under the Bush administration," showing the opposition to be political rather than principled.

Joe Davidson, writing in the Washington Post's Federal Diary blog, also discounted the opposition as political bluster. In the crippling snowstorms of winter 2009-2010, the government saved about $30 million a day, according to Office of Personnel Management estimates, because some federal employees teleworked rather than losing days of work. Now Republicans want to complain because the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would cost $30 million over five years in administrative costs to implement it, Davidson writes. 

"Saving more than $30 million on each snow day compared with spending $30 million over five years should be a no-brainer," Davidson writes. "The snow days also demonstrated the need for government to have an effective continuance-of-operations program in case of emergencies. Telework would be a key part of any such program."

Rep. Phil Gingrey, (R-Ga.), is another Republican critic, writes Stephen Losey in Federal Times. Gingrey wanted a provision barring federal employees who are delinquent on their taxes from teleworking to remain in the bill, but it was removed.

"With the rest of the country struggling to make ends meet, it is unconscionable that my Democratic colleagues think we should give federal employees another benefit," Gingrey said, quoted in the Federal Times article. "It will cost another $30 million while promoting an even more inefficient federal workforce."

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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