House promotes telecommuting for civil servants

The bill specifies that eligible employees should be permitted to telework at least 20 percent of the hours worked in a two-week period, generally the equivalent of two work days.

"A happy workforce is a productive workforce," said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., the bill's sponsor. He said giving more federal workers the opportunity to telework "can help boost productivity by cutting down on commuting time, reducing absenteeism and allowing for greater organizational flexibility." He said it would reduce traffic congestion and pollution and give relief from high gas prices.

The federal government already allows teleworking, or telecommuting, for eligible employees, but studies have cited such issues as management resistance, security concerns and technical problems as discouraging participation.

The Office of Personnel Management, in a report issued last December, estimated that about 110,000 employees teleworked at least one day a month during 2006, about 6 percent of the 1.8 million federal employees.

The office said the number was down from 119,000 the previous year, partly because agencies were working to ensure that computer systems were secure.

The bill requires each agency to have a telework managing officer, mandates training for both managers and teleworking employees and requires that teleworking be made a part of plans for continuing operations during emergencies.

The OPM, in its report, noted that one bright spot in 2006 was the Labor Department, where teleworking was up 58 percent as the agency integrated teleworking into its pandemic flu planning.

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., said more teleworking would also help the government hire and keep talented young workers as its aging workforce retires. "The private sector is still far ahead of the government in terms of embracing teleworking as a recruiting tool," he said.

The legislation directs the General Services Administration, the agency that administers federal contracts, to assist and guide other agencies. Last year then-GSA Administrator Lurita Doan said she wanted her agency to lead the way by having 50 percent of eligible GSA staffers teleworking by 2010.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 federal and D.C. government workers, said the legislation was a good first step in that it requires agencies to show that workers are ineligible for teleworking rather than the current system where workers are presumed ineligible unless the agency determines otherwise.

But the union says the House bill, and a Senate counterpart sponsored by Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Mary Landrieu, D-La., lack enforcement mechanisms for agencies that don't meet teleworking requirements. It also says the bills do not address the rights of unions to communicate with or represent their members in telework situations.

The bill is H.R. 4106.

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