Telework bill could be near tipping point

Now that legislation to expand telework in the federal government has passed both chambers of Congress, sponsors are working to reconcile the two bills and get a final product to President Obama's desk.

The Senate and House versions of the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act are similar, according to a House staffer. They are designed to expand telecommuting opportunities governmentwide by making employees presumptively eligible and requiring agencies to take a number of actions to expand their telework programs.

The Senate measure (S. 707), sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, passed in May, and the House version (H.R. 1722) passed with a simple majority on July 14 after originally falling short of the two-thirds majority needed under suspension of the House rules.

"We expect to get the bill to the president and are talking with the Senate about all options to do that," said MaKeda Scott-Mingo, director of communications for Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., who sponsored the House bill.

Jesse Broder Van Dyke, a spokesman for Akaka, said lawmakers and staffers from both chambers are assessing their options for moving the bill forward. "Obviously we're nearing the end of the year, but we're hopeful we can get this to the president before then," Broder Van Dyke said.

According to Scott-Mingo, there are no significant differences between the two bills, but this week the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers issued a letter asking the sponsors to consider two issues as they prepare a final bill.

IFPTE asked the sponsors to add language to the conference version to expand the measure to include the Congressional Research Service, which is part of the Library of Congress. While CRS has begun to implement what IFPTE considers a meaningful telework program, the union's national president, Gregory Junemann, wrote that Library of Congress workers need legally protected telework opportunities.

Junemann also encouraged lawmakers to include House-approved language that eventually would ensure telecommuters have laptop computers. Providing telework eligible employees with the necessary equipment is crucial to creating an environment conducive to telework, he wrote.

"IFPTE therefore urges inclusion of language included in the House bill calling for the replacement of desktop computers with laptop computers where appropriate and during normally scheduled computer upgrades," Junemann wrote. "Not only do we believe that this would be cost-neutral, but it would better enable telework-eligible employees to take advantage of the many benefits afforded them as a result of the final telework bill."

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