Federal Diary by Joe Davidson
Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this report misquoted Postmaster General John E. Potter regarding the amount the U.S. Postal Service says it will pay into its retiree trust fund if the House and Senate pass a continuing resolution providing the U.S. Postal Service with $4 billion financial relief. The Postal Service would pay $1.4 billion into the trust fund.

Federal Diary: Agency Chief Makes the Case for Teleworking

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By Ed O'Keefe
Friday, September 25, 2009

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry sees great advantages to having federal workers stay home.

That wouldn't mean taking the day off, however. Berry is an advocate of teleworking and is asking federal managers and employees to help sell the idea to skeptical managers and lawmakers.

Berry was making his pitch Thursday, the same day that Washington area commuters experienced 20-mile backups on Northern Virginia highways and road closures in downtown Washington because of a suspicious package in the District. The director considers teleworking as one of several alternative work scenarios he hopes the entire government can continue to adopt.

"The 1950s model of chaining people to their desks for eight hours is a 19th-century model, and I want to get rid of it," Berry said. "But our semantics could kill us, because if Congress and the public think that teleworking is a day off, then we're dead."

"A telework day is a workday. You are to be engaged in the workplace," he reminded the crowd at a town hall meeting hosted by the Telework Exchange at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington. The public-private partnership is designed to promote teleworking.

During his remarks, Berry noted that federal employees in Pittsburgh who work in buildings near Thursday's Group of 20 summit site were given three days of paid leave this week instead of options such as teleworking.

"Telework is perfect for a situation like the G20 because it changes the conversation entirely. Instead of asking 'What's the minimum we can do during this time?' we can aim high and ask, 'What's the maximum we can do?' Can we do 70 percent of a normal day's work? 80 percent? 90?"

He also urged eligible federal employees to telework at least once a week. It should be "second nature" for them.

"It has to be part of the ethos of the office. We can't have offices with no meetings on Fridays because of telework. Get them on the phone. Get them on video conference if you can."

Postal Service Relief in Sight

The House is expected to vote Friday on a measure that provides $4 billion in relief for the U.S. Postal Service, among (many) other things. The continuing resolution set for passage funds federal agencies through Oct. 31 as lawmakers continue working on appropriations bills.

In August, Postal officials forecast a $700 million cash shortfall when its fiscal year ends next Wednesday.

Postmaster General John E. Potter warned that the Postal Service could not afford to make $5.4 billion in required payments to pre-fund retiree health benefits, and he asked lawmakers to change the law requiring them. Congress mandated the prepayments in 2006 when it passed a postal reform bill, figuring the Postal Service's financial condition would probably worsen as mail volume dropped with the increase in Internet use.

If the House and Senate pass the continuing resolution, then the Postal Service will make the payments, Potter said Thursday.

"I'm encouraged by what's gone on in the House and the Senate, and I know we have administration support. If that law changes, we will pay $1.4 billion into the retiree trust fund on Sept. 30," Potter said during a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters.

In addition to the anticipated financial relief from Congress, full-time Postal employees must decide by this Friday whether to accept buyout offers. Up to 30,000 employees can take the $15,000 buyout, which the Postal Service describes as a way to save up to $500 million during the next fiscal year.

The Postal Service is also expected to release an updated list of facilities slated for possible closure or consolidation on Oct. 2. Potter would not comment on the record about the process Thursday.

Joe Davidson is away. He will resume writing this column when he returns. Contact Federal Diary at federaldiary@washpost.com.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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