Telework continues its Congressional tango
By The Post's Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson:
Teleworking for federal employees took a major step forward with legislation approved by the Senate Wednesday night. But it now returns to the House, which passed a different version of the legislation in July.
The Senate version would require agencies to develop policies allowing all employees to work remotely unless their positions are specifically excluded. Telework would become part of an agency's contingency plans for situations, such as the snowstorms that closed federal facilities in Washington last winter, when work could not be done in regular offices. Each agency also would create the post of telework managing officer to oversee its teleworking program. The legislation would create a telework travel test programs, including one for the Patent and Trademark Office.
"I am pleased the Senate passed the compromise telework bill, which I believe contains the best of the House and Senate bills," said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), a sponsor of the legislation. "It will improve the lives of federal workers by expanding telework opportunities, and it will help agencies attract and retain top talent. This bill will help keep critical government functions running in the event of snowstorms or other emergencies."
tThe Obama administration and employee organizations have pushed for greater teleworking opportunities for employees. The inability or unwillingness of supervisors to manage staff members they can't see has long been cited as a major reason so few federal employees now telework on a regular basis.
Less than 10 percent of federal employees eligible to telework did so in 2008, according to the latest "Status of Telework in the Federal Government" report to Congress by the Office of Personnel Management.
The bill attempts to address institutional reluctance through training.
"Employing telework on a government-wide scale constitutes a significant culture shift in the federal workforce, one that requires an increased investment in managerial training to maintain employee engagement, monitor performance and promote cooperation when face-to-face communication is restricted," said Patricia Niehaus, president of the Federal Managers Association. "Establishing trust between managers and employees is key, and that trust can only be established if managers receive the training necessary to clearly lay out goals and objectives and communicate effectively with employees outside of the office. Managers must hold all of their employees accountable for achieving performance results, but a telework environment requires supervisors to possess expanded competencies to manage operations remotely."
Though there has been some reluctance among managers, Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said, "there is a strong body of evidence that telework benefits both agencies and employees--and for that reason, it benefits taxpayers, as well."
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| September 30, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Categories: Congress, Workplace Issues
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