One of the biggest advocates for telecommuting intends to keep the pressure on federal agencies next year.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee, has included a provision in a spending bill to require certain agencies to prove that more of their employees are telecommuting or risk losing $5 million.

The agencies under pressure from Wolf are the departments of Commerce, Justice and State, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Small Business Administration.

Last year, the agencies faced the same loss of funding but managed to pass muster with Wolf. Still, Wolf thinks the agencies can do better, as a report accompanying the fiscal 2006 spending bill makes clear.

According to the report, Congress will expect the agencies to "expand the telework-eligible population; put in place telework agreements for all eligible employees; and actively promote telework opportunities."

The report goes on to say that "in order to eliminate any negative perceptions about staff who choose to telework, agencies should consider providing training to managers on the benefits of telework arrangements."

Federal managers have been reluctant to set up telecommuting programs, in part because they dislike having to choose who gets to work from home, and because they fear it will make it more difficult to respond to surges in workload.

An Office of Personnel Management survey last year found that 6 percent of federal employees work from home or from a telework center at least one day a week. The survey covered 74 agencies with more than 1.7 million employees.

The House Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, chaired by Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.), has scheduled a hearing today that will look at telecommuting in light of increased gasoline prices.

The subcommittee estimates that the federal workforce uses 31.1 million gallons of gasoline each week, and Porter is interested in looking at ways to get workers out of their cars. The hearing will cover alternative work programs, such as telework, mass transit benefits and flexible work schedules, the subcommittee said.

Among those scheduled to testify are William Mularie, chief executive of the Telework Consortium; Steve O'Keefe, executive director of the Telework Exchange; Daniel A. Green, an OPM deputy associate director; and Reps. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Wolf.

Wolf recently asked the Government Accountability Office to review the telecommuting programs of the five agencies. GAO found inconsistencies in how the agencies compiled data on their telecommuters, and Wolf's plan for next year would require them to develop more accurate methods to report telework participation.

DHS Says No to Merger Idea

Efforts to control the nation's borders will be set back a year or more if Congress orders a merger of two agencies in the Department of Homeland Security, a senior department official testified yesterday.

Stewart A. Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the department, said progress has been made to improve coordination and information sharing between Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Many of the problems are in our rear-view mirror," Baker told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on management issues chaired by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.).

Baker said that to force CBP and ICE to merge just two years after the department began operations would create turmoil for thousands of employees, including uncertainty about job and managerial responsibilities.

Rogers and Reps. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.) and Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), however, indicated that they are taking seriously a recommendation by the department's inspector general that a merger would improve accountability and coordination. Rogers called the current division of functions "an organizational mess," and Souder said the "artificial, illogical division" was jeopardizing efforts to interdict illegal drugs.

Diary Live Today

Walton Francis, chief author of Checkbook's 2006 Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees, will take questions on the federal health benefits program at noon today on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com. Please join us.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com