- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Congress thinks the federal government would work better if more civil servants just stayed home.

The House, on a voice vote Tuesday, approved legislation requiring the head of each federal agency to set policies allowing qualified workers to telework, or work from home or a convenient location.

The bill specifies that eligible employees should be permitted to telework at least 20 percent of the hours worked in a two-week period, generally the equivalent of two work days.

“A happy work force is a productive work force,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat and the bill’s sponsor. He said giving more federal workers the opportunity to telework “can help boost productivity by cutting down on commuting time, reducing absenteeism and allowing for greater organizational flexibility.” He said it would reduce traffic congestion and pollution and give relief from high gas prices.

The federal government already allows teleworking, or telecommuting, for eligible employees, but studies have cited such issues as management resistance, security concerns and technical problems as discouraging participation.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in a report issued last December, estimated that about 110,000 employees teleworked at least one day a month during 2006, about 6 percent of the 1.8 million federal employees.

The office said the number was down from 119,000 the previous year, partly because agencies were working to ensure that computer systems were secure.

The bill requires each agency to have a telework managing officer, mandates training for both managers and teleworking employees and requires that teleworking be incorporated into plans for continuing operations during emergencies.

The OPM, in its report, noted that one bright spot in 2006 was the Labor Department, where teleworking was up 58 percent as the agency integrated teleworking into its pandemic-flu planning.

Rep. John Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, said more teleworking also would help the government hire and retain talented young workers as its aging work force retires. “The private sector is still far ahead of the government in terms of embracing teleworking as a recruiting tool,” he said.

The legislation directs the General Services Administration (GSA), the agency that administers federal contracts, to assist and guide other agencies. Last year, then-GSA Administrator Lurita Doan said she wanted her agency to lead the way by having 50 percent of eligible GSA staffers teleworking by 2010.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 federal and District government workers, said the legislation is a good first step in that it requires agencies to show that workers are ineligible for teleworking rather than the current system, in which workers are presumed ineligible unless the agency determines otherwise.

But the union says the House bill and a Senate counterpart - sponsored by Sens. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, and Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat - lack enforcement mechanisms for agencies that don’t meet teleworking requirements. It also says the bills do not address the rights of unions to communicate with or represent their members in telework situations.

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