Teleworking legislation is good news for budgets and workers

The bill requires telework training before employeees enter into a written agreement addressing remote work with their agencies.
The bill requires telework training before employeees enter into a written agreement addressing remote work with their agencies. (Mark Gail)
Joe Davidson
Friday, November 19, 2010

At last.

After tons of paper, vats of ink and who knows how many meetings and conferences on a seemingly simple subject, Congress has given final approval to legislation promoting telework for federal employees.

Some employees already work away from their offices, though less than 10 percent. The bill, passed by the House on Thursday in a 254 to 152 vote, encourages others to do so in a structured way.

As a result, Uncle Sam should be able to save money, increase productivity and have an easier time recruiting and retaining good folks. Mother Nature gave teleworking a big hug when she heavily blanketed the nation's capital with snow last winter, forcing federal offices to close for days.

Some employees did telecommute. Because they did, Office of Personnel Management estimates, the government lost about $30 million less a day than what it would have had no one in the region worked.

Several Republicans spoke against the bill, however, because the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would cost that same amount, a pittance in Uncle Sam's pockets, over five years in administrative charges, for everyday things such as preparing regulations and providing guidance to managers.

Saving more than $30 million on each snow day compared with spending $30 million over five years should be a no-brainer. The snow days also demonstrated the need for government to have an effective continuance-of-operations program in case of emergencies. Telework would be a key part of any such program.

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican and soon to be chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led the charge against the bill, urging his colleagues to vote against a "new bureaucratic mandate within the federal regime."

Not all Republicans did so. Fourteen Republicans supported the measure, including Virginia Reps. Robert J. Wittman and Frank R. Wolf, who has pushed telework for 18 years. Sponsors of the legislation included Democratic Reps. John P. Sarbanes of Maryland and Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia.

Issa indicated that Republicans will attempt to amend it when they take over the House next year.

Less office space

Despite Republican fears about bigger government, experience indicates that telework can lead to smaller government, at least in square feet.

"The Patent and Trademark office, which has been an agency leader in telework efforts, reports that it was able to consolidate nearly 50,000 square feet of space, thereby avoiding $1.5 million in rent per year through greater use of telework," said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), current chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "Additionally, the agency has avoided securing $11 million in additional office space as a direct result of the agency's telework hoteling programs."

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