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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Reader comments

Thu, Dec 2, 2010

Everyone is talking about saving money however nobody is talking about the positive impact on the environment. The real benefits are in clean air, less congested roadways, less reliance on oil. etc... Telework should not be seen as a benefit, it should be the rule whenever and wherever possible.

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 Bill Kendall BLM Colorado State Office

There is a lot of what I call " Management by Personal Whim " and issues like teleworking really illustrate the principle very well. We have managers who refuse to allow teleworking no matter how much information you provide them on the proven and established benefits to the government and seem to not be concerned with the benefits to the employees.

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 Fred DC

Something that everyone else seems to have forgotten about is that Rep. Phil Gingrey, (R-Ga.), perhaps doesn't know what snow is all about since it rarely snow in Georgia. Perhaps he might respond better if told that Federal employees could continue to work at home when the air conditioners in the office go out during the summer...

Wed, Dec 1, 2010

It's interesting to see how vicious our politicians and some of the public are in regard to Federal employees. There are so many highly critical millionaires(politicians, conservative talk show hosts, wall street blood suckers) and imcompetents(other politicians and Joe Average numb skulls) out there that would like nothing better than to find a population to steer all this hate toward and to hang with little to no justification. The savings are pennies, and your taking from the families and mouths of contributors to the tax base, productive members of society before so much as cool breeze brushes the face of those that benefit from the taxpayer. I'd suggest we put the rich and the poor in a room together with one figurative sandwich to share and let them work it out. Leave those in the middle that prove their worth every day, who create all that matters, that support all that matters, alone through this mess. They've given and done enough already.

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 Emma Welsh

I am a proud worker of the federal government and there is nothing in my cube that I cannot do at home. I will say that the government agency I work for does not micromanage as it seems republicans would like to set up for teleworking. Sometimes I do not see my supervisor for days. The results of the work will be the evidence that the work is being done. There is no need to increase administrative costs by making employees prove that they are doing work. Obviously if there workload is getting done, then they are doing their work! As for the 30 million the republicans are estimating how much of that are costs which will be incurred anyways? Agencies need new computers know matter what and in this day and age a desktop and laptop are of comparable price. There are mutual benefits for both the employee and the federal government. This is also fufilling the green initiative the government is working towards. Telework makes sense. It could be a nice benefit to negate the pay freeze for the next 2 years as well.

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