Union praises passage of telework language

The National Treasury Employees Union spoke out last week in support of language in the fiscal 2005 appropriations legislation that will impose financial penalties on federal agencies that refuse to adopt strong telework programs.

The omnibus spending bill was signed by President Bush Dec. 8.

Federal labor unions have been strong supporters of programs that allow federal employees to work from home. Senior officials at the Office of Personnel Management have also spoken out in favor of such programs, highlighting the fact that teleworking capabilities could be essential to continuing government operations in the case of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

The omnibus bill will withhold $5 million in appropriations from agencies if managers do not make telecommuting available to all of their eligible employees. It is not clearly defined, however, which employees should be eligible for this program.

NTEU singled out the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Securities and Exchange Commission as agencies that might be penalized under the new regulations. The union said their commitment to the program "has been open to question." Those agencies did not return calls seeking comment on the accusations.

At the same time, the union applauded a number of agencies for working to develop telework programs. NTEU officials lauded the IRS, the Trademark Division of the Patent and Trademark Office, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Tax and Trade Bureau of the Treasury Department. The union also praised Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., for sponsoring the initiative.

Wolf has been a longtime proponent of telework, establishing the first federal telecommuting center in Winchester, Va., and pushing personnel officials to make the option available to workers. This summer, a spokesman from Wolf's office expressed hope that the penalties will be "viewed as an incentive."

"Teleworking works. It's just a matter of it being embraced and given the opportunity," said Wolf spokesman Dan Scandling.

Kelley has said, however, that the initiative is being blocked by a "lack of managerial commitment and leadership to the idea."

She added that the financial disincentive might be "the stick that might finally push these agencies to get this job done."

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