Telework Gains Momentum as Congress, Administration, Call for Action
Ever since a freak snow storm buried our nation’s capital under two feet of snow last winter – shutting down the federal government for four days in the process – telework has been a topic of great interest in Washington. In recent months and weeks, members of Congress and the Obama Administration have undertaken a serious push toward what many believe may finally deliver telework opportunities to the federal workforce.
On September 29th, the Senate unanimously passed compromise legislation, H.R. 1722, which would increase the government’s use of telework in its normal and emergency operations. The bill would require federal agencies to determine which of their employees are eligible to telework, and develop regulations under which they will be allowed to work remotely.
A similar version of H.R. 1722 was passed in the House earlier this year, which served as the basis for the compromise package approved two weeks ago in the Senate. Though the House failed to vote on the revised bill before departing for campaign season, it is anticipated that the law will see a vote soon after the midterm elections this November.
Administration officials have also been up front with their support of increasing telework in government. From the outset, OPM Director John Berry set a goal of increasing the number of eligible workers by 50 percent between FY 2009 and FY 2011. Ever since, he has encouraged agencies to develop their own telework initiatives aimed at meeting this challenge.
The reasons for expanding telework opportunities are widespread and hard to ignore. The storm mentioned earlier not only cut off government services to the American people, it also cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity. With a telework policy in place, many of these workers would have been able to continue work from home, saving the taxpayers millions. Even under normal operating conditions, increased telework would reduce agency building costs, increase productivity, reduce both monetary and environmental commuting costs, and improve employee morale.
“This is a really important bill for the federal workforce,” said NFFE Legislative Director Randy Erwin. “Telework saves the government money while significantly improving the quality of life for those able to take advantage of the workplace flexibility. Increasing the use of telework will make federal employees happier and make our government run more efficiently.”