Senators Push for More Telecommuting

By Stephen Barr
Friday, March 30, 2007

Two senators think it's time for more federal employees to be telecommuting.

Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) have introduced a bill that would make nearly all government employees eligible to telecommute. The bill covers employees in the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Under current practice, employees are assumed to be ineligible for telecommuting unless their agencies select them for work-at-home programs, the senators said in a statement.

Stevens and Landrieu said the bill would reduce fuel consumption, ease traffic congestion and help government workers better balance career and family obligations. "We must continue to promote measures that will secure our nation's energy independence," Stevens said. "This bill represents just one small piece of that puzzle."

The bill is the latest in congressional efforts over the past several years to encourage more telecommuting by government workers. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), for one, has since 2000 used his seat on the House Appropriations Committee to promote telecommuting.

The most recent federal personnel data showed that 41 percent of civil service employees had been deemed eligible to telecommute, but that only 19 percent were working from home or from a nearby telework center at least one day a week.

Federal managers, for the most part, have been wary of telecommuting, in part because of concerns over employee productivity. In a recent survey of federal managers sponsored by the Telework Exchange, nearly half of the 214 respondents said their agencies did not support telecommuting.

The Senate bill would require agencies to create a "telework managing officer" to be a liaison between employees and managers and would require training for new employees and managers.

The bill would exempt employees assigned to national security and intelligence functions and certain others, such as those whose duties require a "daily physical presence" in the office.

Pushing Pay-for-Performance

Debate over how to overhaul the civil service is not fading in the new Congress.

Yesterday, Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) introduced a bill to prohibit annual pay raises for federal employees with unacceptable job ratings. Currently, sub-par workers in the government qualify for the January pay raise authorized by Congress and the White House.

"Employees should receive annually a rigorous evaluation," Voinovich said in a statement. "Pay should be determined by an individual's performance."

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