Library of Congress limits teleworking

Experts question whether legislative branch will 'walk the walk'

As Congress continues trying to ensure that agencies comply with telework laws, one division of the legislative branch is cutting back on its employees' telecommuting options.

The Library of Congress' Office of Strategic Initiatives said in a recent memo that because of budget constraints it will only approve telework applications for short-term, documented medical reasons.

'Telework applications other than for medical accommodations are currently being denied,' said the memo from Laura Campbell, associate librarian for strategic initiatives.

The OSI staff performs Web- and IT-related work for the Library.

... or else

The memo comes as Congress has been tightening the purse strings on agencies that do not comply with'and expand upon'existing telework laws.

Congress earlier this fiscal year passed'for the second straight time'appropriations legislation that would withhold $5 million from the departments of Commerce, Justice and State, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Securities and Ex- change Commission, and the Small Business Administration if those agencies do not certify that telecommuting options have increased over 2005 levels.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has spearheaded much of Congress' drive on telework. Repeated attempts to reach Wolf for comment on LOC's decision to limit teleworking were unsuccessful.

Drew Crockett, spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee, said expanding telecommuting options is a priority for the committee and for chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.).

'The slow pace of telework implementation across government is frustrating, especially when you take a look at the significant benefits this tool has to offer,' Crockett said.

Congressional privilege

While the Library of Congress is not explicitly covered under the current telework statutes, one agency source who follows telework issues said the memo could cause a political headache for the library.

'They don't appear to be in any legal trouble, but that almost makes it worse from a political standpoint,' said the source, who requested anonymity. 'Is Congress going to apply the law to itself?'

Guy Lamolinara, a Library of Congress spokesman, said Congress was informed of the memo, which is not the final word on teleworking. 'All of the Library's service units, including OSI, are in the process of determining the extent to which telework is consistent with their needs and mission,' Lamolinara said. 'OSI anticipates completing that assessment by the end of the second quarter of 2006.'

OSI, Lamolinara said, estimates that it spends about $3,800 a year per teleworker, which includes the cost of a laptop, routers and cables, software maintenance and hardware support.

Eligibility review

'Each service unit, including OSI, must review the type of work that may be eligible for telework, as well as employee suitability for offsite work arrangements,' Lamolinara said. 'Widespread availability of the program will require the library to review available resources and equipment.'

Telework enthusiasts say the memo calls into question Congress' commitment.

'This memo is an example of the mixed messages that federal agencies receive regarding telework,' said Stephen W.T. O'Keeffe, executive director of the Telework Exchange of Alexandria, Va., a joint federal-industry online community. 'On one hand, Congress is actively advocating telework to the agencies, and in fact is ready to enforce this direction with appropriations holdbacks tied to those agencies' progress in meeting telework requirements. On the other hand, Congress refuses to walk the walk as well as talk the talk on telework.'

In a study late last year, the Telework Exchange concluded that agencies are not doing enough to promote telecommuting options for their employees.

For example, although practically every agency has a telework plan, only slightly more than half of the federal workers interviewed for the study said they were aware of the plan, and only 21 percent believed they were eligible for it. Only 5 percent could name their agency's telework adviser.

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