Hill lays down the law on telework

Rep. Frank Wolf sponsored the clause to withhold $5 million from agencies that do not meet telework goals.

J. Adam Fenster

Rep. Frank Wolf made good on his threat to compel agencies to meet a congressional mandate on telework, and agencies have taken that warning seriously.

The Virginia Republican's provision will withhold $5 million from all agencies covered by the Commerce, Justice and State appropriations bill that do not meet the goal of offering workers the opportunity to telecommute. The language made it into the final omnibus spending bill that President Bush signed into law last week.

Wolf is the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Commerce, Justice and State departments and so limited the provisions to just these three and the Small Business Administration, which the subcommittee also oversees.

But Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said he will consider drafting a proposal to extend the provision governmentwide.

The agencies affected by the provision said they have met the goal or will meet it by the February deadline.

'We have been doing something about it,' said Fran Corcoran White, Commerce's telework program coordinator. 'We have been working over the last four years to get into compliance. We are not concerned about the provision, because we know we will be in compliance.'

Spokesmen from SBA, Justice and State also said their agencies will be in compliance.

'We offer program participation to all employees,' said Mike Stamler, an SBA spokesman. 'We are comfortable that we are in compliance.'

Agencies must certify they have offered all eligible employees the opportunity to telecommute, and provide quarterly reports to the House and Senate Appropriations committees on the status of their telecommuting programs, including the number of workers who telework.

Joanne Simms, deputy assistant attorney general for human resources administration, said Justice also is in compliance.

About 15 percent of Justice's 30,000 to 40,000 eligible employees telework regularly. Others occasionally telecommute, she said.

If agencies do not meet the goals, Dan Scandling, Wolf's spokesman, said the Office of Management and Budget will withhold the money.

Wolf added the new provision to this year's bill after agencies failed to make enough progress on an earlier mandate. In 2000, Wolf sponsored a requirement that agencies have telecommuting programs in place by 2005.

'Clearly agencies needed to do more, and this is hopefully some incentive to do more,' Scandling said. 'Congressman Wolf doesn't like to do this type of thing, and if agencies meet their goals, there is no loss. It is unfortunate it came to this.'

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