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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."

Voinovich, the ranking member on the Senate's federal workforce subcommittee, introduced a similar bill last year, but Congress has appeared reluctant to take up a major change until it sees how the Defense and Homeland Security departments fare with their new performance-management systems.

On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee voted to roll back a pay-for-performance system under development at the Department of Homeland Security. The action was faulted yesterday by Linda M. Springer, director of the Office of Personnel Management, who said "we oppose any efforts to revoke these authorities."

The National Treasury Employees Union, which has lobbied Congress to block the new system, welcomed the committee action. Colleen M. Kelley, the union president, said the system would "make even worse the serious morale problems that are widespread in DHS."

In addition to the pay bill, Voinovich introduced two other measures yesterday.

One would realign the pay system for senior-level and scientific and professional personnel, providing them an opportunity for higher salaries. Congress approved a similar performance-based system, with a higher salary scale, for federal executives in 2003.

The other bill would amend the tax code to allow student loan repayments to be offered on a tax-free basis to military and civil service employees. Voinovich said the bill would help agencies recruited top-notch talent.

Talk Shows

Dotty Blum, past president of the Employee Assistance Professional Association, will be the guest on "FedTalk" at 11 a.m. today on http://federalnewsradio.com and WFED radio (1050 AM).

Vice Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., chief of naval personnel and deputy chief of naval operations for manpower, personnel, training and education, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. Saturday on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

Stephen Barr's e-mail address isbarrs@washpost.com.

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