It’s a stocking stuffer many federal workers in the Capital region have been anticipating for years – the authorization and ability to work for the government from home.
On Nov. 18, the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 254-152 adopted the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, a bill that improves and expands teleworking in federal agencies by requiring them to establish a policy under which eligible government employees are approved to telecommute. The bill also instructs federal agencies to notify their workers of their eligibility to telework, and it establishes a Telework Managing Officer to develop and implement the program.
The legislation, already approved by the Senate Sept. 29, now heads to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature into law. The administration has previously stated its support for the bill.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.), one of the authors of the bill and a longtime advocate for telecommuting opportunities for federal workers, applauded the bill.
“This legislation will bring the federal government into the 21st century,” Wolf said. “Telework programs implemented in the private sector have increased productivity, improved employee morale and saved operating costs. Increasing the number of federal employees who telework will not only improve their quality of life, but will also take cars off the roads, improve air quality and provide relief to commuters tormented every day by the traffic congestion in our region. Telework is good government policy.”
Telework Exchange, an organization promoting federal telecommuting, hailed the bill’s passage in Congress.
“Telework is an invaluable asset to the federal government,” said Cindy Auten, general manager of Telework Exchange. “It is a readily available productivity tool for employees. It saves agencies money and it helps protect the environment. The [bill] is a critical step in implementing and improving federal telework programs…”
In advocating for the bill’s passage, Auten’s group pointed to research showing that a three-day-per-week teleworker can save almost $5,900 each year on commuting costs and prevent more than 9,000 pounds of pollutants from damaging the environment.
Currently, only about 5 percent – or 103,000 – of the 1.9 million federal employees work remotely to some degree. Of the total workforce, 62 percent are eligible to telework. The Obama administration has set a goal of 150,000 government employees teleworking on a regular basis by next year – a 46 percent increase.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cost almost $30 million to implement, but the bill’s supporters argue that longterm savings, once implemented, will more than make up for the cost.
Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said the prospective savings will provide an “excellent return” on the up-front cost of the legislation, noting that private sector companies such as IBM save almost $56 million each year in reduced office space by allowing workers to telecommute.
Another of the bill’s authors, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.), said the bill would have a “positive impact on productivity, quality of life and the environment.” He added that teleworking can also be “used as a tool to reduce traffic congestion in the D.C. Area …. it can save taxpayers money by increasing efficiency, reducing federal office space and improving employee retention.”
Even with the bill’s anticipated enactment into law in the near future, not all federal employees will be eligible to work remotely, and many others will have limitations. If a federal worker has been previously disciplined for absenteeism, or for viewing illicit material online while at work, he would not participate. Some federal jobs cannot be done remotely, including law enforcement and air traffic controllers, and other workers who handle and view secure materials might not be able to participate.
For more information, go to http://www.thomas.gov and t,ype ”HR 1722” in the Search box.
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