Congressmen Plan Measures to Rev Up Telecommuting
By Stephen Barr
Friday, July 9, 2004; Page B02
Frustrated that many federal agencies do not encourage telecommuting, two House members said yesterday that they plan to sponsor legislation to increase the number of telecommuters in the government workforce.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, endorsed the idea of financially penalizing agencies that do not have meaningful telecommuting programs. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs an Appropriations subcommittee, has signaled that agencies under his jurisdiction, such as the Commerce, Justice and State departments, will face budget cuts in fiscal 2005 if they do not bolster their telecommuting programs.
"I fear that this is the type of action required to get the wheelbarrow moving," Davis said. "I am therefore prepared to follow . . . Mr. Wolf's lead and work to implement similar language that would apply to all federal agencies. Let the message be clear: We are serious."
Rep. Danny K. Davis (Ill.), the ranking Democrat on the House civil service subcommittee, said he would sponsor a bill mandating a pilot project involving at least two agencies that would require employees to operate from alternate work locations, including their homes.
Employees in the pilot project would work away from their offices for at least 30 days to identify how their jobs can be performed during an extended emergency or disruption. An aide said Davis would introduce his bill today.
The plans to use legislation to promote telecommuting in the federal workforce came at a hearing of the Government Reform Committee. House members emphasized that robust telecommuting programs would help federal and congressional offices in Washington cope with unforeseen disruptions, such as snowstorms, hurricanes, anthrax mailings and a Tractor Man.
"The ever-present threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil should compel those in authority to incorporate telework into any disaster contingency plans," Tom Davis said.
Bush administration officials described an array of initiatives designed to promote telecommuting but acknowledged that progress has been slow.
Four years ago, Congress, at the urging of Wolf, approved legislation that directed agencies to provide telecommuting opportunities to 100 percent of their eligible employees. But the percentage of eligible employees who are telecommuters has been stuck at about 14 percent for the last two years.
"I believe we can expect greater progress through the rest of this decade," said Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management. "That is not really soon enough."
Stephen A. Perry, head of the General Services Administration, said, "We share your frustration with the slow growth of the program."
James said the administration believes "further legislation is unnecessary at this time," but Tom Davis signaled that he thinks many agencies need to be pushed on telecommuting. "We are way behind the private sector, which thrives on efficiency," he said.
Although some federal employees will find a way to abuse or take advantage of telecommuting, Davis said "the efficiencies you gain with good employees . . . far outweigh the abuse."
Wolf said telecommuting -- which allows employees to work from home or from telework centers -- would help reduce traffic congestion and pollution while giving employees a chance to spend an extra hour or two with their families.
He attributed the slow progress on telecommuting to a reluctance by agency leaders to manage their workforces in a new way. "I know the problem isn't with the workers," Wolf said.
Gregory Reeves, president of Blacks in Government, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.
Rodney Bent, a House Appropriations Committee staff member, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).
"The Hatch Act -- No Computer Campaigning?" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).
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