All agencies could face penalties if they fall short on telework

Top House lawmakers are mulling legislation that would withhold money from any federal agency not offering 100 percent of eligible employees the opportunity to telecommute.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, is considering applying measures from earlier appropriations bills that would withhold $5 million from any agency that does not meet the 2000 congressional mandate requiring them to offer telecommuting options for all their employees, a committee spokesman said.

The effort builds on the fiscal 2005 spending bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and signed by President Bush last year, that would have penalized the departments of State, Commerce and Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Small Business Administration if those agencies failed to offer telework options.

A similar bill is pending for 2006 and also applies to NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Davis also is considering offering federal employees other benefits to encourage telecommuting, the spokesman said. Neither initiative has been introduced formally.

Davis' efforts come after the House Appropriations Committee released $5 million to the five agencies targeted in 2005 after government auditors found significant improvements in their efforts to meet the telework goal.

In letters sent in mid-September to top officials at the agencies, Wolf said a Government Accountability Office review gave the agencies passing grades for increasing telecommuting opportunities. The letters also said the committee remained concerned over how agencies are utilizing telework.

'The committee believes that there are significant strides still to be made to increase opportunities for employees to telework,' Wolf said in the letters.
Meanwhile, Wolf urged the president to embrace telework in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

'The recent devastation from Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast disrupted oil drilling operations, flooded refineries, shut down pipelines and slashed U.S. fuel production by more than 10 percent,' Wolf said in a letter to Bush. 'As a result, Americans were faced with record-high gasoline prices. This experience underscores the necessity of conserving fuel. The United States now imports almost 60 percent of its oil; with telework, employees save energy and the nation's dependence on foreign oil sources are reduced.'

Telework also saves money, he said, pointing to a 2003 report from AT&T reporting savings of $143 million in improved employee productivity and morale.

'I believe the federal government could realize similar savings,' he said.

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