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Telework bill fails in the House; Senate delays action

By Ed O'Keefe

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.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | May 6, 2010; 12:09 PM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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Just curious. Why would the House place this bill on suspension (the legislative maneuver that limits debate and amendments and requires a two-thirds vote for passage)? Were they trying to avoid amendments?

Posted by: jcbcmb68 | May 6, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Telework can be a huge benefit for productivity - for example, a mother could opt to work from home rather than take six weeks of maternity leave. In this way, it saves taxpayers. As Sen. Sarbanes mentioned, it also can assist in alleviating traffic, allowing parents to spend more time with kids or couples to spend more time at home together... Just a thought, but it could also help stave off serious issues related to stress.

The only thing is - why only limit it to federal workers?!

Posted by: JG08 | May 6, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Why was a two-thirds vote required?

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | May 6, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

JG - I agree with your points, but a few corrections...
The feds are VERY strict that parents have other child care arranged before allowing a parent to telecommute, so the maternity leave argument doesn't really apply here. That's also because the Feds give zero paid maternity leave.
The traffic (and less wasted time commuting) and the ability to focus on a long-term project are the biggest draws for telecommuting in any office, but there are so many pro's to telecommuting, it should be common sense to enact it.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | May 6, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I think there is some skeptisism here and I belive the core of it is that the public at large are still struggling financially..including job losses. While I am a fed gov employee, I think the timing of this is not good when so many people are STILL faced with job losses. I look forward to at some point, teleworking, but I also am thinking..ewww...this just doesnt sell well right now in the eyes of the public. As it is, we have an image problem with so many people thinking we sit around and eat donuts all day. Fix that first before we add salt to the public wound.

Posted by: IGotLotsToSay | May 7, 2010 5:17 AM | Report abuse

I work at military dept in DC. I would telework except that I'm technologically challenged and our take-home lap tops are complex to set up, resulting in great frustration and a horrendous waste of time. Using the "company" portable is not as easy as opening and using your own lap top. In addition, I like to print things now and then and I don't own a printer and will not buy one for work, even if my supervisor would authorize me taking a ream of paper home. Finally, our big boss requires that TCers tell him every day what work they plan to do. What? I'm gonna play games on the computer? Having said that, telework is a great idea and does save the fed money (at least electricity and water and sewer and telephone at the office), not to mention traffic avoidance, gas saving, and auto emissions. Don't know what the House's problem is; this is certainly not a partisan issue (and I'm an R). And to respond to JG08, Congress can only address federal matters; it can't control teleworking in private employment.

Posted by: Cliffy69 | May 11, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

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