Telework legislation moves closer to passage

A bill that would expand the opportunities for telework across the government has moved a step closer to being passed.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has approved a bill that would expand telework opportunities for federal employees, moving it to the full House and a step closer to passage.

The Telework Improvements Act of 2009 (H.R. 1722) was approved by the full committee on April 14 with three amendments intended to improve the bill's oversight provisions. In March, the committee's Federal Workforce Subcommittee approved the measure by a unanimous vote.

The legislation would require every agency to develop a telework program that allows employees to telework at least 20 percent of their hours, measured every two work weeks. Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Subcommittee Chairman Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) sponsored the bill.


Related:

Telework bill moves forward in House

Telework directive for Nuclear Security Summit signals changing times


Last year, the Office of Personnel Management began a program to help agencies formulate standards for policies and programs. As part of that effort, OPM Director John Berry told all agencies to submit their telework policies annually for OPM's review.

OPM also recommended that agencies designate a telework managing director, advised agencies to create a transparent appeals process for employees whose requests for telework may be denied, and said it will work to establish training for managers and employees.

The amendments added to the current bill would:

  • Require OPM to conduct studies on the use of telework by public and private sector entities that identify best practices and recommendations for the federal government.
  • Require OPM to develop guidelines to assess agency compliance with telework regulations and oversee agency plans to continue operations during emergencies.
  • Allow agencies to decide if a current employee could assume the role of Telework Managing Officer.

“Coupled with the latest amendments, this bill will ensure that agencies are moving telework forward, allocating resources, and training managers and employees,” said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange, a group that supports telework in government.

The legislation would hold agencies accountable with extensive reporting to Congress, OPM and the Government Accountabilty Office. However, in the long term, telework programs will save agencies time and money, Auten said.

“These are solid measures for federal employees and I am pleased to see this approval,” Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a written statement. NTEU is the largest independent federal union, representing 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.

“Repeated studies of telework programs show they play a positive role in the federal workplace. I’m confident that more and more examples of the success of these programs will convince remaining reluctant managers to expand telework among their employees,” Kelley said.

Record breaking snow storms this winter in the Washington, D.C. metro area provided reluctant managers as well as proponents of telework with an opportunity to test business continuity and telework plans.

There appears to be more of a sense of urgency than previously by agencies to develop robust telework plans because the Obama Administration is focusing on this area. Plus, weather conditions such as the blizzard of 2010 and events such as the recent Nuclear Security Summit affect workers’ mobility, telework experts said.

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