Disappointed that federal agencies are moving slowly on telecommuting, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) lowered the legislative hammer yesterday.
Wolf, who chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee, wrote a provision into a fiscal 2005 spending bill that would require certain agencies to certify that 100 percent of eligible employees have the option to telecommute. Agencies that failed to comply would face a budget cut of $5 million each.
According to the bill, the Commerce, Justice and State departments, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Small Business Administration and the federal judiciary would have two months after the measure became law to show that telecommuting opportunities are being made available to all eligible employees or face the budget cut.
The bill, which was approved yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee, also would require that each agency submit quarterly reports to Congress on the status of its telecommuting program and, as requested last year, designate a "telework coordinator" to oversee the program.
Wolf is not the only Washington area lawmaker who has become frustrated with the government's slow pace on telecommuting. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the House Government Reform Committee chairman, has scheduled a hearing for July 8 on the issue. A spokesman said Davis will ask key federal agencies and some private-sector employers to testify.
Last month, the Office of Personnel Management informed Congress that only 6 percent of federal employees work from home or a telework center at least one day a week. The survey covered 74 agencies with more than 1.7 million employees.
The OPM report listed 20 agencies where less than 2 percent of the employees telecommute. Among them are two agencies that Wolf oversees as an Appropriations cardinal -- the State Department and the SBA.
For the last four years, Wolf has urged the government to create robust telecommuting programs, contending that such programs would help cut traffic congestion and pollution in the Washington area. In a previous bill, Wolf laid out a timetable for ramping up the government's telecommuting effort.
But the timetable, which would have had three out of four eligible employees telecommuting today, has not been met. By most accounts, agencies have moved slowly because of concerns that employees who work at home may be less productive and because federal managers are reluctant to let employees work out of their sight.
Complaint Against Postal Service
The U.S. Postal Service discriminated against a military reservist when he was dropped from a training program for supervisors, the Office of Special Counsel alleged in a complaint yesterday.
The discrimination occurred in April 2000 when postal employee Charles Bosko, who was performing reserve duties "in connection with U.S. military activity in Bosnia," was dropped from the training program because he could not work Saturdays, the complaint said.
The Office of Special Counsel, headed by Scott J. Bloch, enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination against reservists who are called to active duty. The law guarantees that reservists can return to their jobs or to similar positions after military duty.
Bloch's office filed the complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board and asked for a board order that would provide lost wages and benefits to Bosko.
An attorney for the Postal Service declined to comment because he had not seen the complaint.
Mikulski to Offer NIH Bill
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) plans to introduce legislation today that would upgrade the police force at the National Institutes of Health and link officers' salaries to U.S. Park Police pay scales.
In a statement, Mikulski said current NIH officers "are overworked and underpaid. Security at NIH may be at risk because they are having trouble recruiting and retaining qualified police officers and because the police department isn't authorized to protect all of NIH's facilities."
In the House, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has introduced a similar bill.