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Workers pushed out of the office

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Until recently, federal agencies had to identify which of their employees were eligible to work away from the office. Now agencies must identify which employees flat-out cannot telework.

Slight sounding change. Big deal.

Unless you are a butcher, baker, cowboy, meat inspector, Border Patrol agent — Uncle Sam has them all — or someone in a unique, hands-on job, you are now in the running to become a teleworker.

The new policy from Congress and the administration could open the door to teleworking for tens of thousands of civil servants who are currently office-bound five days a week. Some agencies that are ahead in the teleworking game, such as the Patent and Trademark Office, now purposely don't have enough office and desk space for all their employees. Instead, workers who come in only one hour or one day per week are "hoteling," or sharing office space on a scheduled basis with other teleworkers.

So how many people are teleworking? The latest data available show an overall decrease, from 140,696 in 2004 to 119,248 in 2005.

But that decrease is a good sign. The reason is that the 21,448 teleworkers who disappeared over the year really weren't committed to it. Instead, they were "phantoms," often allowed or ordered to work from home as little as one day per year. That let the agency tell Congress that it had more teleworkers than it did. The idea was to keep the wolf from the door. In this case, that would be Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, a pro-teleworker powerhouse in the appropriations process who proposed fines for agencies that didn't show improvement in their teleworker numbers.

Now the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is counting "serious" teleworkers — people who work from home one, two or three days a week or a month on a regular basis.

Backers of teleworking say it improves employee morale, makes recruiting easier and reduces tardiness. It also has obvious advantages during bad weather — teleworkers are supposed to be on duty when other feds get a snow day — and is supposed to cut down on traffic, fuel consumption and pollution.

Officials also see teleworkers as major players in the federal Continuity of Operations Program, which would go into effect in the event of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office says all the happy talk about teleworking is great, but it wants facts — numbers or information that prove teleworking is a good deal for the government and taxpayers.

Teleworking nobles & knaves

Which agencies are at the top of the teleworking totem pole? The Office of Personnel Management says that would be the Patent and Trademark Office, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission and, surprise, OPM.

According to Web Worker Daily, the National Archives and Records Administration was listed in OPM's teleworking report as having 85 persons eligible for the program and 129 who were teleworking. Web Worker Daily said this is a "truly impressive participation rate of 151.76 percent."

Reasons for these figures could include human error, misprints and faulty proofreading, or misinterpretation of data. Whatever the reason, the story was too good to check.

c Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnews radio.com.

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