Five federal agencies, each at risk of losing $5 million from their budgets until they showed a commitment to telecommuting, won't lose the money, but Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) still thinks the government can do more to promote telework.
Wolf chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee and has told agencies covered by his spending bill that he will pull funding if they do not expand telecommuting opportunities for eligible workers.
In notifying the five agencies that they will get their funding, Wolf wrote that the Appropriations Committee "believes that there are significant strides still to be made to increase opportunities for employees to telework."
Wolf told the agencies that he wants to see quarterly progress reports and hopes that more telecommuting arrangements will be provided.
Wolf's letter noted that the Government Accountability Office had certified that the agencies' telecommuting programs met the requirement of a provision he had placed in an appropriations bill last year.
The five agencies are the departments of Commerce, State and Justice, the Small Business Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Wolf has long contended that federal agencies should offer more opportunities to telecommute, saying that it cuts down on traffic congestion and pollution and, in most circumstances, improves employee productivity.
By most accounts, federal managers have been reluctant to set up telecommuting programs, in part because they fear it could complicate staffing arrangements in offices and make it harder to respond to surges in work.
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 also wrote President Bush last week, pointing to Hurricane Katrina and the jump in gasoline prices as reasons to increase telecommuting in the government. In his letter, Wolf asked Bush "to embrace telework as a workplace priority."
He said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, anthrax scares and Katrina have shown that government operations can be quickly overwhelmed. "In the wake of these events, if a government-wide telework program were established and operational as a cornerstone of the federal workplace, we could ensure that necessary telework habits will be in place in the event of a similar disaster in the future," Wolf wrote.
After Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, Linda M. Springer, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, urged agencies to use flexibilities in workplace rules, such as telecommuting, to reduce fuel consumption.
In his letter to Bush, Wolf praised the General Services Administration for deciding to pick up the costs at 14 regional telework centers for federal employees who wish to use them because of high gasoline prices.
Two key jobs that focus on union and employee issues have moved a step closer to being filled. Last week, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held confirmation hearings on nominees for the Federal Labor Relations Authority and the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Colleen Duffy Kiko has been selected by the president to serve as general counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The job has been vacant for nearly a year, and unions are eager for the position to be filled in hopes that the administration will pay more attention to labor-management disputes. Kiko is a member of the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board at the Labor Department and was a staff member at the labor relations authority from 1976 to 1983.
Mary M. Rose was nominated to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears appeals from federal employees who face dismissal, demotion or other disciplinary action. The board's workload is likely to change if the departments of Defense and Homeland Security move ahead with plans to streamline employee appeals and handle more cases with internal boards. Rose now chairs the Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee, which helps set policy on blue-collar pay in the government. She helped recruit political appointees for the Bush administration in 2001.