Once again, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) is pushing several agencies to certify that they are increasing telecommuting opportunities for their workforces or risk a loss of funding.
The House is scheduled today to take up the fiscal 2006 appropriations bill, which includes a provision sponsored by Wolf, chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee. It would continue an effort begun last year by Wolf that required certain agencies to make telecommuting available to eligible employees or forfeit $5 million at the end of the fiscal year.
"I don't like having to be so heavy-handed and threaten to withhold funding, but if that is what it is going to take to get more people teleworking, then that is what I will continue to do," Wolf said in a statement.
According to a 2004 government report, 6 percent of federal employees work from home or from a telework center at least one day a week. The report covered 74 agencies with more than 1.7 million employees.
Wolf began championing a robust telecommuting program in the government about five years ago as a way to help the Washington area cut traffic congestion and pollution. But agencies have moved slowly on the issue despite encouragement from the Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration. Many federal managers are not comfortable with the concept or are concerned that employees who work at home may be less productive.
Last year, Wolf directed the departments of Justice, State and Commerce, the Small Business Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission to file reports showing that eligible workers are permitted to telecommute.
Wolf has asked the Government Accountability Office to review the telecommuting reports.
Because the House expanded the jurisdiction of his subcommittee, Wolf also would require the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to certify that they provide ample telecommuting opportunities for their workforces. Wolf asked GAO to review their plans as well.
A subcommittee report accompanying the House bill points to the advances in computer technology, the growth of wireless and digital products and the continuing expansion of the Internet as evidence that federal employees can work at any time from almost any place.
"Management considerations, such as productive and satisfied workers; environmental considerations, such as reduced traffic congestion and improved air quality; and quality of life considerations, such as accommodating the short- or long-term health needs of employees, require the establishment of telework programs," the subcommittee report said.
Wolf, in his statement, noted that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks showed that the government needs to be able to continue operations when federal buildings are closed or have their work disrupted.
In April, GAO told the House Government Reform Committee that telecommuting should be seen as "an important and viable option" to help ensure continuity of agency operations. But GAO found that few plans last year addressed the issue of continuing essential functions through telework.
GAO also reported that none of the agencies in its survey had documented preparations to use telecommuting during an emergency. Such preparations would include training of staff, ensuring adequate technological capacity and testing the ability to telecommute, GAO said.
Robert E. Lindsay, chief of the criminal appeals and tax enforcement policy section of the Justice Department's tax division, retired March 3 after more than 37 years of government service, including three years in the Army. He received a Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award in 1991.
Dave E. Meads, a senior management analyst in the Agriculture Department's rural development program, has retired after 35 years of federal service. He began his career in St. Louis.