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Telework gets another vote this week

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 3:49 p.m. ET
House lawmakers are set to vote this week on a bill expanding telework options across the federal government, as a new survey of federal workers finds that just 10 percent of them use the flexible work option.

Agencies would be required to appoint a telework managing officer with the goal of boosting overall participation. Employees could telework only if didn't affect agency operations, and workers who handle secure or classified materials or information would have to work from their offices.

Supporters say the bill could help the government avoid weather-related shutdowns, such as the one during February's blizzard, by giving employees the option of working from home or other locations. The Obama administration considers telework an attractive benefit that could help woo job applicants.

The bill should pass this week with a special fast-track rule requiring a simple majority to approve it, Democratic aides said. It failed to pass in May amid Republican opposition to its $30 million price tag. Democratic supporters, led by Rep. John Sarbanes (Md.), have said the bill will save taxpayer dollars over the long term and cite OPM statistics that found federal workers who worked from home during February’s storm saved the government about $30 million by maintaining operations.

Supporters also included the provisions prohibiting workers who handle secure or classified materials or information from teleworking to appease opponents concerned that teleowork could jeopardize agency computer security.

The vote comes the same week the Office of Personnel Management released new statistics on telework participation from the new Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which polled more than 263,000 executive branch employees.

Ten percent of survey respondents telework at least once a week, and 12 percent do so less frequently. Thirty-six percent said they can't telework because they must be physically present to do their jobs (this includes law enforcement officers, lab technicians and national park rangers); 7 percent said they don't telework because technical issues prevent them from doing so; 23 percent said they don't telework because they're not allowed; and 12 percent of workers said they choose not to telework.

The results indicate that 64 percent of federal workers could work remotely if given the opportunity.

"Hopefully those numbers will continue to climb so we can continue to push employees and managers to move in that direction," said OPM Director John Berry, a leading telework advocate who called the option "a valuable tool for the government."

Steve O'Keeffe, executive director of the Telework Exchange (and an Irishman whose last name uses one more F than the Federal Eye's), said the survey's results mirror previous findings. “It's good direction, but it also shows where we still need to go,” he said. The Telework Exchange is a public-private partnership funded by private firms and the General Services Administration.

“Agencies really need to put their programs into drive by educating employees, training management and importantly, set an example by having upper management telework,” O'Keeffe said.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | July 12, 2010; 3:37 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Workplace Issues  
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