Telework bill fails in the House; Senate delays action
Updated 6:51 p.m. ET
Federal workers will have to wait a bit longer for the option to work from home, as the House failed to pass a bill that would have expanded telework options across the government.
The House voted mostly along party lines on Thursday and failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to proceed on the measure. A Senate version remains pending.
Though slightly different, the bills essentially require federal agencies to appoint telework managing officers to oversee new policies developed by each agency and the Office of Personnel Management. Employees could telework only if doing so would not impact agency operations. The bills prohibit workers who handle secure or classified materials or information or who perform tasks that cannot be performed remotely from teleworking.
About 61 percent of federal workers are currently eligible to telework, but only 5 percent do so regularly, according to OPM. The agency's director, John Berry has devoted most of his tenure to convincing lawmakers and other skeptics that telework options are necessary to help retain and recruit potential federal hires.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the House measure would cost about $30 million, a price too high for most Republicans, who also don't like that the bill requires agencies to hire a telework manager. Agencies should be able to decide on their own whether to hire a manager, a Republican aide said.
But the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), said his bill would save taxpayer dollars in the long term, noting that federal workers who continued to work from home during this year's snowstorms saved the federal government roughly $30 million by maintaining operations.
"This bill would be a win for the taxpayer," Sarbanes said in a statement. "It would also bolster the federal workforce, improve traffic in the D.C. area, and reduce carbon emissions -- all in one fell swoop."
Sarbanes and others have used the snowstorms and subsequent federal snow days and President Obama's recent nuclear security summit as examples of how teleworking could help maintain government operations even as downtown Washington is locked down.
Cindy Auten of the Telework Exchange, a group pushing for greater federal workplace flexibilities, said her group will continue to push for passage.
"We have to showcase not just what it means for federal workers, but we also have to do a good job of showing how agencies have progressed on telework and improved operations," Auten said.
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