Senate committee passes IG, telework, e-gov bills

The White House and Senate in close negotiations on the legislation, especially the Inspector General Reform Act.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today approved its version of the Inspector General Reform Act along with three other bills that will affect agency policies on e-government, telework and real property disposal. By voice vote, senators sent the manager’s amendment offered by Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to the floor for a full vote. Should the full Senate pass the measure, it would go to a conference committee to iron out the differences with the House version. The House passed its version Oct. 8. The White House threatened to veto that version, but a senior administration official said the administration has been working closely with the Senate on its version. “We have worked with key Senate staff on every large and small piece of the IG bill,” said Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management. “This is something we are doing with them, not to them. What we want to do and what the Senate wants to do is very similar.” Johnson added that OMB met with committee staff members and it was one of the most effective meetings he has ever had with lawmakers' staffs. The committee also approved the E-Government Reauthorization Act, the Telework Enhancement Act and a bill to create a test program for agencies to dispose of surplus real property. The IG bill received the most discussion, but none garnered any real opposition. “This would be an important improvement from the 1978 legislation,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a former state auditor and a co-sponsor of the legislation. “We would strengthen the IG’s ability to be independent, but we also worked with the administration to deal with their concerns.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the committee’s ranking member, added that the bill strikes the right balance to increase IGs’ protection without giving them full autonomy. Also, lawmakers replaced the telework bill with a substitute amendment offered by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Ala.). “This will strengthen the Telework Act, which is 10 years old,” Stevens said. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the committee's chairman, added that the bill would help agencies adopt telework, which they have been slow to do. “I think this bill will help overcome some of the institutional inertia against telework,” he said. The bill would require agencies to develop a telework policy, determine employee eligibility to telecommute and develop written agreements with those workers who will work outside the office. The legislation also would require agencies to have an interactive training program for all employees and managers. The Office of Personnel Management would have to develop policies and guidance for telework in areas of pay and leave, agency closure, performance management and other areas. Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency must develop policies and guidance for telework as it relates to continuity of operations and long-term emergencies. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) introduced a House version Nov. 7 called the Telework Improvement Act of 2007. For the real property act, OMB would conduct a test program to dispose of federal buildings, technology equipment, office furniture and other goods. OMB should ensure agencies list all property for disposal on a Web site and let the public receive updates via e-mail. Agencies would keep 20 percent of the revenue from the sale of their property along with administrative costs, while the rest would be returned to the Treasury. “Agencies don’t sell things because they get nothing out of it,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a co-sponsor of the bill. “We proposed in the pilot agencies sell off 750 properties and keep some of the proceeds and use it to meet their mission goals.” Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) introduced a companion bill July 16, but it has not gotten out of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

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