PTO may pay for teleworkers' Internet access

The Patent and Trademark Office may use its appropriations to reimburse teleworkers for their at-home high-speed Internet access, according to a Government Accountability Office ruling. The decision supports PTO's aggressive telework initiative, a PTO spokeswoman said.

PTO should review reimbursements periodically to ensure that it has adequate safeguards against misuse and is paying back employees for home Internet service used for official purposes, GAO said in its decision.

The GAO ruling was in response to an inquiry by PTO, an agency of the Commerce Department, and supported its findings that Internet access, like telephone service, is necessary for PTO employees, regardless of work site.

'It will help us reduce administrative burden and confirms that our approach to providing ISP reimbursement to employees is appropriate,' said PTO spokeswoman Brigid Quinn.

The ruling upholds policy guidance the General Services Administration released last March. GSA expects to provide detailed policy guidance later this year on telework technology issues, including IT security.

'Telework is a critical part of managing the 21st-century workplace, both in the private sector and within the federal government, and GSA recognizes the importance of alternative workplace arrangements and its benefits to employees, productivity and the environment,' said Kevin Messner, GSA acting associate administrator of governmentwide policy.

Under public law, agencies may use appropriated funds to install telephone lines and necessary equipment in the private residence of any employee who has been authorized to work at home, and to pay monthly charges for Internet, broadband access, e-mail services, voice over IP equipment and services and desktop videoconference equipment and services.

GSA also is working on telework policy and guidance in the areas of alternative office and space savings, COOP and pandemic planning, the use of telework centers as an alternative to working at home and the revision of laws to facilitate telework.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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