|Concerned that too few federal employees are getting plugged into telecommuting, House Democrats are drafting legislation that would encourage agencies to allow eligible employees to telework four days a month, on average.
Reps. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), chairman of the House federal workforce subcommittee, and John Sarbanes (D-Md.) are the chief sponsors of the proposal, which would require every federal agency to establish a telework policy so more employees could choose to work from home or at locations away from their primary office.
The most recent federal data, collected in 2005, showed that about 6.6 percent of federal workers can be considered regular telecommuters. Raising that percentage, proponents say, would cut back Washington’s traffic problems, reduce auto emissions and allow agencies to keep working even when emergencies force main offices to shut down.
Although Congress has urged agencies to promote telework for the past five years, a May survey of 25 federal agencies, conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, found them to have no consistent definition of telework.
Some agencies decide who may telecommute on a case-by-case basis; other agencies exclude certain occupations from eligibility. The majority of agencies do not notify employees of their eligibility to telecommute unless the employee makes a request, the survey found.
“One only has to read Dr. Gridlock’s column in The Washington Post to know that federal employees already know the answer to the congestion, pollution, and emergency preparedness problems we face. The answer is telecommuting,” Davis said yesterday in a statement.
“Just last Thursday a reader of Dr. Gridlock’s column wrote, ‘I still believe more federal employees should telework at least once a week . . . .’ I and many of my colleagues agree with Dr. Gridlock’s readers. That is why I, along with Rep. Sarbanes, will introduce legislation to spur all federal agencies to implement telework policies that permit their employees to telework,” Davis said.
Davis’s subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on telework for this morning. Witnesses invited to testify include Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a longtime advocate of telecommuting, and officials from the Office of Personnel Management, General Services Administration and the Government Accountability Office, a subcommittee aide said.
Sarbanes said expanding telework in the government will help improve the quality of life of employees and make the government more competitive when hiring. In addition, he said in a statement, telecommuting provides “important environmental benefits” by reducing traffic congestion and pollution.
During the summer, Sarbanes offered an amendment to the House energy package, which was approved, that called on federal agencies to permit telecommuting to the maximum extent possible. The energy legislation is pending in the Senate.
“I am pleased we are working collaboratively to move this effort forward,” he said of the proposed bill.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight committee, called the bill “an important step forward” and said he will become a co-sponsor.
The Davis-Sarbanes proposal would permit agencies to exempt employees who handle classified or other security-sensitive materials on a daily basis or must be physically present in the office because they operate special equipment, according to a draft version. The proposed bill also would require agencies to provide training on telework to managers and employees.
Proponents of telecommuting say agencies can offer a work-at-home perk without reducing productivity and usually point to the Patent and Trademark Office as a case study.
But numerous federal managers are skeptical of telecommuting’s benefits, administration officials have said. Many think they could lose control of their staff or would have fewer face-to-face meetings with employees, make it more challenging to communicate with them, according to survey released in January by the Telework Exchange and the Federal Managers Association.
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