Judiciary chairman holds up Senate telework bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy does not object to the telework bill in general. Sen. Patrick Leahy does not object to the telework bill in general. Newscom

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has put a hold on the Senate telework bill because of a dispute over a provision related to the Patent and Trademark Office, several sources told Government Executive on Friday.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act (S. 707), which would require each agency to establish a telework policy and determine, notify and train eligible employees, last May. But an amendment included during that markup has halted the bill's progress in the Senate, sources say.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., offered the amendment, which establishes a pilot program related to travel expenses for Patent and Trademark Office employees who telework. Under the program, the agency would reimburse those employees for expenses incurred when they were required to travel to PTO headquarters. The agency would be required to prove net cost savings, and that the travel was in the best interest of the government. The program would affect 302 trademark employees and 1,910 patent employees who are participating in the work-at-home program, a Senate staffer said.

The aide, who declined to speak on the record given the politics of the hold, said Coburn offered an identical amendment to a patent reform bill the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering; Leahy, chairman of that committee, believes that provision falls exclusively under his jurisdiction, despite a Senate parliamentarian ruling to the contrary.

"We know he has the hold; a number of members have talked to him about it ... " the aide said. p> Jesse Broder Van Dyke, a spokesman for Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who introduced the bill, confirmed that the parliamentarian has ruled the provision falls under the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's jurisdiction, and both committees can approve the provision and enact it twice.

"Our office has been meeting with them [Leahy's staff] and trying to work it out," Broder van Dyke said.

Matthew Biggs, political and legislative director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, also confirmed the hold. He said supporters of the bill are in a bind because Coburn may object to unanimous consent of the bill if the patent provision is dropped.

"I consider [the hold] petty," Biggs said. "Our union thinks it's ridiculous to hold up a bipartisan bill supported by the administration based on a jurisdiction dispute."

The Senate staffer said supporters of the bill have turned to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for help given his recently expressed support for the legislation.

A Judiciary Committee staffer said Leahy has no problems with the telework bill broadly, only with the section on the Patent and Trademark Office pilot. "The Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, has oversight responsibility for the Patent and Trademark Office," the aide said. "The PTO-specific section was added to the telework bill, after a similar section was including in the Patent Reform Act. Sen. Leahy believes that reforms to the PTO should be made comprehensively, not piecemeal. He would certainly have no objections to this legislation if the PTO-specific provision were struck."

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