Telework and benefits bills take one step forward

A House subcommittee on Wednesday approved legislation to promote telework in federal agencies, increase oversight of prescription drug coverage in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and allow federal employees to invest the value of their unused annual leave in their retirement accounts.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia unanimously approved the 2009 Telework Improvements Act (H.R. 1722), introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md. The bill would codify a governmentwide telework policy that Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry announced in April 2009.

"Some federal agencies are doing a great job of taking telework seriously and integrating it into their operations," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., one of the bill's sponsors. "Others need a nudge. By making telework a statutory requirement for every agency, we leapfrog the mind-set of some managers that, 'If I can't see you working, you're not working.' "

Among other changes, the measure would require agencies to allow telework-eligible employees to work from a remote location at least 20 percent of the time, and it would mandate more training for managers and supervisors on how to handle employees working away from the office.

The panel adopted a Connolly amendment that would require agencies to include telework and flexible scheduling in plans for staying up and running during crises. Telework cut the government's productivity losses during the February snowstorm, Connolly noted, citing Berry's estimate that the shutdown cost $70 million in lost productivity daily instead of $102 million because more employees than expected worked from home.

The subcommittee also approved legislation that would allow federal employees to deposit the value of their unused annual leave in their Thrift Savings Plan accounts, and a bill that would give the Office of Personnel Management more oversight authority over the prescription drug management companies that negotiate the prices federal employees pay for individual prescriptions.

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