Bill would encourage more telework

Legislation introduced on Wednesday would expand telework opportunities for federal employees.

The 2009 Telework Improvements Act, offered by Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Md., Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Gerald Connolly, D-Va., would compel the Office of Personnel Management to develop a uniform, governmentwide telework policy. It also would require agencies to allow eligible employees to use the alternative work arrangement for at least 20 percent of their hours during a two-week period.

The bill's sponsors framed telework as a good governance, environmental and quality-of-life issue. They also said federal agencies should use telework as a recruitment and retention tool.

"Since serving as chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, I have championed telework as a low-cost, high-impact tool to reduce our traffic congestion," Connolly said. "This bill will reduce the number of daily auto trips among the 2.5 million daily commuters of the National Capital Region and provide a critical post-Sept. 11 framework for continuity of operations plans in both the public and private sectors."

The legislation would require agencies to designate a telework managing officer and boost training for employees and supervisors. It also would give teleworkers greater protection against punitive treatment from managers.

Sarbanes, Wolf and Connolly included provisions directing OPM to compile governmentwide data on telework. The Government Accountability Office would be required to produce an annual report to Congress "imposing the strict oversight and accountability that will ensure the success of this innovative workforce management policy."

Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, are expected to introduce a companion bill in the Senate on Thursday.

"There is everything to gain by significantly expanding telework in the federal sector, and nothing to lose," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Even without the legislation, telework is becoming more popular in the federal arena. Thirty percent of respondents to a survey released by the nonprofit Telework Exchange in October 2008 said they spent more time working outside the office than they had the previous year. Forty-two percent said they teleworked at least part time.

Cindy Auten, general manager of Telework Exchange, applauded Congress for introducing the legislation.

"Telework supports business continuity, employee recruitment and retention, real estate savings and employee work-life balance and flexibility -- a win-win for both agencies and employees," Auten said.

The work arrangement is "not simply a personnel benefit," said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. "It is smart business and an effective management tool."

He added he is confident performance metrics will show telework has quantitative as well as qualitative benefits.

"It is largely a matter of trust on the part of managers," Kelley said. "When managers can overcome their initial reluctance, they learn that telework boosts morale and productivity."

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