Agencies urged to step up telework efforts

A key House lawmaker is considering introducing legislation that would cut the budgets of all agencies and departments that fail to allow qualified employees to telework.

The proposal would expand on a provision included in the House version of the fiscal 2005 Commerce, Justice and State appropriations bill that would withhold as much as $5 million from a handful of agencies if they cannot show that qualified employees are allowed to telework at least once a week. The provision was sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a longtime telework advocate.

The House passed the spending bill in July and while the Senate version of the bill does not have the same provision, both Wolf and House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., expect the measure to be signed into law.

On Wednesday, Michael Layman, a House Government Reform Committee staffer, told a group of federal managers that Davis is considering introducing a measure similar to Wolf's that would urge all departments and agencies to step up telework efforts, or face budget cuts.

"We understand that the only two ways to get agencies to pay attention to Congress are to threaten their budgets or to drag them up to Capitol Hill to testify before members," said Layman, who spoke at the Telework in the Federal Government Conference. "This is an idea, telework, whose time has come. We on the Hill believe it is important."

Telework lowers the need for office space, reduces commuting time and prepares the federal government for emergencies, and these benefits should be emphasized, Layman said. He cited the Treasury Department as a top-performer for telework and said the Interior Department ranks at the bottom, with managers not allowing employees to participate.

"Management seems to keep telework from happening governmentwide," Layman said. "It can be unsettling for a manager to not see his or her employee, but if managers and employees just tried telework, they just might like it."

The 2001 Federal Telework Mandate requires managers to allow eligible employees to telework. The Office of Personnel Management's 2003 Telework Report, however, showed that agencies' telework numbers fell far below the goals laid out in 2001.

Because there is no standard defining what makes telework "certified," agencies can simply sign a document stating that they have made teleworking opportunities available to all employees. Layman said defining telework is something the Government Reform Committee has looked into, but it will likely be left up to the agencies.

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