House rejects telework bill

Thursday - 5/6/2010, 2:41pm EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

By a 268-147 vote, the House on Thursday voted down HR 1722, the Telework Improvements Act.

The bill failed because, under House rules governing non-controversial legislation considered under the suspension calendar, the measure failed to win a two-thirds majority of the lawmakers voting.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D.-Md.), the primary co-author of the bill, is convinced that the Telework Bill unexpectedly became a political football. "Obviously, I'm disappointed. It appears that the Republicans decided to throw this into their overall strategy of blocking it for the sake of blocking it, which, sadly, has become a pattern."

The Telework Bill was being considered under "suspension of the rules", a procedure usually reserved for non-controversial resolutions and other matters on which there is broad bi-partisan support. When a bill is being considered under suspension, it has to pass on either a voice vote or win two thirds of the votes of all members -- 290 votes.

Until an hour before the midday vote on Thursday, Sarbanes was convinced his bill enjoyed that broad across-the-aisle support. He learned later that Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who had backed the bill until it reached the floor, was among the 147 members voting against the measure yesterday morning.

Sarbanes also says that 20 minutes before the vote, the Republican Study Committee circulated a memorandum among members of the House Republican Caucus citing concern over the cost of the measure, and suggesting this might be a reason not to vote for the Telework bill.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Telework bill would cost the government approximately $30 million dollars over the next five years. Federal News Radio tried to contact Rep. Frank Wolf (R.-Va.) -- one of Sarbanes' 14 co-sponsors of the bill -- for comment and perspective on the GOP moves, but his office declined our request for either an interview or a written statement.

Reached in his Capitol Hill office this afternoon for comment, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), one of the principal co-authors of the bill, told Federal News Radio, "Let's remember it went down only because it did not meet a two-thirds vote threshold. This is Inside-the-Beltway game-playing by Washington professionals, and frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves. The victims here are the hard-pressed commuters in Northern Virginia and the metropolitan region, and our federal workforce, each of whom needs relief. Telework is a practically cost-free tool in alleviating congestion, our air-quality challenges, improving morale, and productivity in the workforce."

Cindy Auten, general manager of The Telework Exchange, believes the surprise failure of the Telework Bill, presents a new opportunity for her organization to educate lawmakers about the long-term benefits of teleworking among federal workers.

"Telework is really going to save a tremendous amount of time and money, and this is something that can benefit taxpayers."

As for the future of the Telework Bill, Sarbanes tells Federal News Radio it isn't over yet. The Maryland Democrat and supporters are working with the House leadership to have the bill considered under the House's "regular order", in which the bill is subject to scrutiny by the House Rules Committee, and possible amendments are considered. He says under regular order, only a simple majority is needed to pass the bill.

Sarbanes says he hopes to have the House reconsider the measure within the next few weeks.

Read More:

The Daily Debrief: Focus on work/life balance could free you from the office

The Federal Drive: USPTO opens up about telework success

Federal News Radio: OPM tests letting feds work without a schedule

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