Obama orders federal workplaces to cut emissions, improve safety

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

President Obama wants federal workers to take a bike, bus or subway to work more often and is ordering agencies to make their offices a safer place to work.

Two White House memos issued this week aim to reduce the federal government's environmental footprint and cut the number of workers' compensation claims made by federal employees.

Obama signed orders on Tuesday requiring the government to cut its carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from indirect sources, including employee commutes and travel, by 13 percent in 2020.

The federal government owns 600,000 vehicles, almost 500,000 buildings and paid $24.5 billion on utility and fuel bills in fiscal 2008, making it the nation's largest energy consumer.

"That energy goes towards lighting and heating government buildings, fueling vehicles and powering federal projects across the country and around the world," Obama said in his memo. "The government has a responsibility to use that energy wisely, to reduce consumption, improve efficiency, use renewable energy, like wind and solar, and cut costs."

The government also plans to cut indirect emissions by controlling its heating and cooling systems and by promoting recycling programs, officials said. Agencies also will locate future office space closer to public transit systems. Tuesday's orders are part of a broader effort to cut direct emissions by 28 percent by 2020, based on 2008 figures.

Some federal workers may find themselves giving up their commute at least some of the time. The White House is also backing legislation supporting teleworking, a move it says should save millions of dollars in lost productivity during weather events and cut down on air pollution and commuter costs. A bill approved by the House last week expands work-at-home options and requires agencies to appoint a telework manager. The Senate passed a similar bill in May.

Obama also launched a four-year effort to improve federal workplace safety standards by ordering agencies to reduce the number of workers who fall ill or are injured on the job.

By the end of fiscal 2014, the president wants agencies to cut the number of injury and illness cases and the amount of time it takes to review incidents and process compensation claims. Agencies also must speed up an employees' return to the workplace. Federal employees filed more than 79,000 new claims and received more than $1.6 billion in workers' compensation payments in fiscal 2009, according to the White House. The figures do not include the U.S. Postal Service.

"Many of these work-related injuries and illnesses are preventable, and executive departments and agencies can and should do even more to improve workplace safety and health, reduce the financial burden of injury on taxpayers, and relieve unnecessary suffering by workers and their families," Obama said in a memo issued Monday.

Each agency will have to foot the bill for any changes, Obama said. The memo preceded a House subcommittee hearing scheduled for Wednesday about how agencies are preventing and dealing with workplace injuries.

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