Study finds agencies not promoting telework options

As the Senate considers legislation that would withhold $5 million from several agencies if they do not demonstrate improvements in offering telework options to employees, a new study concludes that several barriers are preventing the government and its workers from enjoying the benefits of telecommuting.

In the study, the Telework Exchange of Alexandria, Va., a joint federal-industry online community, concluded that federal workers are interested in telework but do not know if they are eligible or with whom they can discuss the matter in their agency.

'The findings of the 'No Free Ride' study clearly indicate the need for improved access to telework programs and continued telework education in the federal government,' said Stephen W.T. O'Keefe, executive director of the Telework Exchange.

Although practically every agency has a telework plan, only slightly more than 50 percent of the federal workforce interviewed for the survey said they were aware of the plan and only 21 percent believe they are eligible for it. Only 5 percent could name their agency's telework adviser.

Furthermore, the study found that the federal workforce could save $3.3 billion a year if all eligible employees teleworked twice a week.

The average federal employee spends nearly $10,580 a year commuting to work five days a week, disperses eight tons of pollutants into the environment and is in traffic for approximately 233 hours annually.

If that employee could telework twice a week, he or she could save $4,372 a year, regain 98 hours lost to traffic and spare the environment 3.6 tons of pollutants.

The study comes as the Senate considers legislation that would withhold $5 million from several agencies'including the Commerce, Justice and State departments'if they do not improve telework options for their employees.

The House passed the fiscal 2006 Science, State, Justice and Commerce appropriations conference report earlier this month. The bill would withhold $5 million from State, Commerce and Justice, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Small Business Administration if those agencies do not certify that telecommuting options have increased over fiscal 2005 levels.

If passed and signed into law, it would mark the second straight year that Congress threatened to withhold funds from these agencies over their compliance with a 2000 congressional mandate requiring them to offer telecommuting options to all employees.

In fact, the House Appropriations Committee in September released $5 million to Commerce, Justice, State, SBA and SEC after the Government Accountability Office found significant improvements in their telework offerings.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) authored the language in the legislation, arguing that agencies are not taking seriously the benefits that telework can provide.

'Some agencies are doing better than others when it comes to providing opportunities for their employees to telework, but we still have a long way to go,' Wolf said. 'As I said last year, I do not like having to be so heavy-handed and threaten to withhold funding, but if that is what it is going to take to get more people teleworking, then that is what I will continue to do.'

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