Telework bill passes House, headed to Obama

Thursday - 11/18/2010, 4:14pm EST

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) speaking to Federal News Radio's Francis Rose

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

The House passed the Telework Enhancement Act (H.R. 1722) on Thursday making way for expanded telework opportunities for federal employees.

The Senate passed its version of the bill on Sept. 29, and the legislation now makes its way to President Obama and is expected to be signed into law.

The bipartisan bill encourages feds to work from home. Currently about 5 percent of the federal workforce teleworks on some level and the goal is to increase that number.

The House vote was 254-152, in the face of Republican opposition to the $28 million pricetag to implement the law over the next five years.

But bill sponsors say telework increases productivity and saves money. Supporters estimate telecommuting saved the government $30 million a day in the government shutdown during last winter's snowstorm.

"We're talking about bringing the government into the 21st century from a technology point of view and every other point of view," said bill sponsor Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) in an interview with Federal News Radio's Francis Rose.

"The technology is moving so aggressively there's no reason not to have a good telework policy," Wolf said.

Wolf worked with co-sponsors Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) to get the bill sponsored in the House.

"Increasing the number of federal employees that 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," Wolf said in a release.

According to public-private partnership Telework Exchange, under the new law, agencies must:

  • Establish a telework policy and determine employee eligibility within 180 days of the bill becoming law.
  • Set up interactive training programs for teleworkers and telework managers.
  • Include telework in business continuity plans.
  • Appoint a telework managing officer who is a senior official with direct access to the agency head.
  • Submit yearly progress reports to the Office of Personnel Management.

Wolf told Federal News Radio that the appointed telework managers will be advocates for the employees. They will ensure that agencies known for resisting telework cannot stop employees from teleworking.

"It will come out if an agency is not cooperating," Wolf said.

The National Treasury Employees Union has been a long-time supporter of telework. The union, which represents 150,000 feds, will work closely with agencies to "see that the full potential of the legislation is realized," said NTEU President Colleen Kelley in a statement.

The Federal Managers Association, representing federal executives and supervisors, said telework will help in employee recruitment and retention. In a statement, FMA National President Patricia Niehaus said telework marks a "significant culture shift in the federal workforce." She promoted increased managerial training to "maintain employee engagement."

Federally Employed Women also commended Congress for passing the telework bill.

"We truly believe this legislation is a win-win for taxpayers whose services will not be interrupted and whose tax dollars will be better spent with increased productivity by our workforce," said Janet Kopenhaver, FEW's Washington representative, in a release.

Do you plan to telework? TAKE OUR POLL!

AP contributed to this story.

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