Telework bill finally on president's desk

Legislation is an attempt to greatly increase the number of federal employees allowed to telework, but its critics say it won't do the job.

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.

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.


Related stories:

The state of telework in the government

4 ingredients of a telework success 

Big telework savings trumps butts in the seats


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.

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.

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