Oversight committee OKs telework and TSP bills
Federal employees are one step closer to regular telecommuting and to being allowed to put the cash value of unused leave toward their retirement.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday approved measures to expand telework and to allow federal employees to invest the value of unused leave in their retirement accounts.
The panel passed the 2009 Telework Improvements Act (H.R. 1722) by a voice vote, after debating three amendments aimed at strengthening oversight. The measure would codify a governmentwide telework policy Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry announced last year, guaranteeing eligible federal employees the right to work off-site for at least 20 percent of every two-week period. It also would require every agency to designate a telework managing officer and it would provide training on the alternative work arrangement for employees and supervisors.
"This act seeks to improve access to telework governmentwide," said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. "Despite the fact that the federal government is seeking ways to improve its business, telework continues to be underutilized by federal agencies."
The legislation received bipartisan support, though Republican lawmakers urged clear oversight and strong management of the program. "There are some potential and demonstrated bad effects of telework," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking member of the committee. "Millions of records, classified or unclassified, have been lost as a result of telework. That is unacceptable."
The committee approved an amendment offered by Chairman Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., that would require OPM to develop guidelines to assess agency compliance with telework regulations. Further, it asks OPM to oversee agency plans for staying up and running during emergencies. "This builds on the government's current telework capability, and it requires OPM to issue governmentwide regulations for telework and provide agencies with advice and necessary training to make sure telework is utilized to the maximum capability," Towns said.
The panel also cleared an amendment by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., that would mandate a database to help OPM determine the validity and success of telework programs. And it approved a provision by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, which would allow agencies to decide whether a current employee could take on the role of telework supervisor. "We certainly have agencies that are rather large that will require a full-time person to execute this," Chaffetz said. "We also have agencies that are rather small. This amendment will allow agencies some flexibility to determine need."
The committee also passed by voice vote a bill (H.R. 4865) that would allow federal employees to add the cash value of leftover annual leave to their Thrift Savings Plan accounts, so long as it didn't put them over annual contribution limits of $16,500 for employees younger than 50 and $22,000 for those who are 50 or older.
The measure drew bipartisan support and prompted little debate, though the panel did approve an amendment by Connolly to change the effective date to one year after enactment. That language was aimed at ensuring the TSP board has enough time for implementation.
"We need to make sure we have time to put in place adequate processing," Connolly said. "There is an allowance [in the amendment] that if they can do it faster than a year, they can do it that way as well."
The National Federation of Federal Employees praised the committee for supporting "a much needed boon to federal employees' retirement accounts, which took such a big hit in recent years." NFFE National President William Dougan thanked Lynch and Chaffetz for reaching across party lines to sponsor the measure.
"These are good government bills," Towns said. "They save taxpayers money while reducing waste and increasing workforce flexibility."
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