Funds released to agencies after improving telecommuting options

The House Appropriations Committee released $5 million to five agencies after government auditors found significant improvements in the agencies' compliance with a congressional mandate on telework.

In letters sent earlier this week to the departments of State, Commerce and Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Small Business Administration, House lawmakers released the funding after the Government Accountability Office gave the agencies passing grades for increasing telecommuting opportunities.

The letters, however, also highlighted remaining concerns. 'The committee believes that there are significant strides still to be made to increase opportunities for employees to telework,' wrote Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce and Related Agencies, which oversees the agencies.

Wolf added a provision in the final omnibus spending bill signed by President Bush late last year that would have withheld $5 million from agencies that did not meet a 2000 mandate requiring all agencies to offer telecommuting options to all employees

He put similar language in this year's spending bill, and added NASA and the National Science Foundation to the list.

Wolf on Thursday urged President Bush 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 wrote 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. 'A 2003 report from AT&T, one of the nation's leading telework companies, reported that the company saved $143 million from increased worker productivity and improved employee morale,' he wrote. 'I believe the federal government could realize similar savings.'

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