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Posted at 11:41 AM ET, 11/18/2010

Telework legislation passes

By Ed O'Keefe

There may be less congestion on Washington-area roads in the coming years, now that the House has passed a bill that gives more federal workers the option of working from home or locations outside the office.

The Telework Enhancement Act, cosponsored by Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), passed 254 to 152 on Thursday. It now heads to President Obama for his signature.

The vote caps a years-long effort to secure Congressional approval of a program federal recruiters believe could help woo new government job applicants eager for flexible work schedules and options. The House first passed telework legislation in July and the Senate passed a different version of the bill in September. Wednesday's House vote was to approve the Senate version of the bill and send it to President Obama for his signature.

The measure requires federal agencies to develop policies allowing employees to work remotely unless their positions are specifically excluded (that means you, doctors, police officers, lab technicians, park rangers, etc.).

Telework now must become part of an agency's contingency plans for emergency or weather situations, such as the snowstorms or potential terrorist attacks. Each agency also must also designate a telework managing officer to oversee its teleworking program.

The Obama administration and employee organizations have pushed for greater teleworking opportunities for employees, citing concerns about the continuity of government and potential cost savings. Unions note that the government saved about $30 million from employees who worked from home during this year's historic Washington-area snowstorms.

The General Services Administration estimates that if federal workers telecommuted at least one day per week, agencies could increase productivity by more than $2.3 billion annually. Agencies also could save money on electricity, office supplies and office space.

GSA is so committed to teleworking that its downtown Washington headquarters is undergoing a massive renovation that will purposely lack enough space for all of its workers once its completed. The decision means many employees will have to telework at least a few days a week and then share space with colleagues who report for work in person on alternate days.

But some government managers remain skeptical of the program, citing an unwillingness to manage employees they literaly can't see at the office. Critics also note that less than 10 percent of eligible federal workers teleworked in 2008, according to a study conducted by the Office of Personnel Management.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 18, 2010; 11:41 AM ET
Categories:  Congress, Military  
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The so-called "costs" of the snowstorm are a fraud. Any "work" not done during that time was caught up within a few weeks. The entire federal government could close one week a month without anyone noticing.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | November 18, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

uh, if someone was so stupid to follow such a suggestion, what would you say when your food at the grocery store is so poor in quality, you wouldn't feed it to your dog.. what would you say if your elderly family member didn't receive that SSI check? What would you say when a terrorist can walk through with no checks into the country?

Ooops my bad? maybe we shouldve shut the government down for 29 days instead of 30?

Be sensible. Be realistic.

Posted by: Just_An_Observer | November 18, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Once upon a time, I had a government job that could have been done on the other side of planet Earth, assuming I had appropriate access to the agency's computer systems. They were paranoid about that, though, so I had to manually transport files home, if that's where I wanted to work. I tried working at home, for a while, but finally concluded it was almost more trouble than it was worth. I ended up just doing the ten minute drive to work every day.

Posted by: John991 | November 18, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Comrades: A subtle, but vital point ---- telecommuting Feds receive a back-door pay raise by avoiding transportation costs. Does the legislation account for, or even mention, this gross inequality????

Posted by: rep15 | November 18, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I work at home two days a week, and it's wonderful. Yes, I do save money on transportation. I also save money on clothes and lunches. And I save time, about four hours of commuting time every week. It is as good or better than a pay raise!! More importantly, however, I am much more productive when I work at home. My job involves a lot of writing, so when I work at home without interruption, I get much more done. On the days I work at home I miss the personal (but time-cosuming)interactions with my colleagues, but thanks to email, I am always in contact with my office.

Posted by: helat | November 18, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Many feds already have their transportation cost paid for.
Comrades: A subtle, but vital point ---- telecommuting Feds receive a back-door pay raise by avoiding transportation costs. Does the legislation account for, or even mention, this gross inequality????

Posted by: rep15 | November 18, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Vze2sr66 | November 18, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Any manager who balks at managing telecommuting employees should be retired forthwith. I left a government job because of such management intransigence, in this case because the headquarters IT manager blocked computers in remote offices, thus making my job with tight deadlines and court perfection requirements virtually impossible. All my opponents had budgets several times the size of mine, and computer hardware unlimited. Turf-crazy managers are the bane of honest, hard-working employees; they take the joy out of everything they touch.

Posted by: jv26 | November 18, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

If you can work from home ?

Then you can work from India

I foresee outsourcing of Congress jobs to other nations.

ACtually, this could be a VERY GOOD BIG STEP to get out of nationalistic paradigm and enter the global political paradigm.

Just an insight that occurred to me after seeing this headline and reading the article.

Posted by: HRPuffinstuff | November 18, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Like that famous New Yorker comic with the dog at the keyboard explaining "See, on the internet, you can be a dog and no one ever knows it" ?

Would be amazing to find out the Chair of the energy committee - that that job went to some Dog on the internet - or better, some genius 12 year old Indian kid.

Now THAT is a model I'd support - globally distributed workers for a government.

I mean, that's how global corporate banking works !

If it's good enough for the global financial corporations that are systemic risk to the nation states ? Why - it should be good enough for nation states congressional workers to be globally distributed TOO ! LOL

It's absolutely ABSURD that we allow or disallow people from serving congress based on where they were born.

The problem with territorialistic nationalism is - it doesn't respect tectonic place theory. What's Madagascar going to do when it slides up into India ? What ? Is India going to have to defend it's borders against a moving tectonic plate saying - No, NO more mountains ! Stay away Madagascar or we'll attack you ?

It's just absurd we accept this in 2010.

It's got to be close to what living Pre Copernicus must have been like.

People adhering to crackpot models.

You see ? If territorialistic nationalism HAD any REAL long term goals ? it would clearly be seen that the longer the goal ? the more dynamic the change IN territories due to tectonic plate movements.

Perhaps a REAL strong earthquake can reveal the CRITICAL FAULT LINE running right though ideologues who promote nationalism in the advent of nuclear weapons.

Posted by: HRPuffinstuff | November 18, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

I teleworked for my agency successfully for three years without missing a beat. There are so many tools available to collaborate online and web conference, you really could have a virtual workforce in the will was there. A lot of old fossils in management don't like it (they should be asked to retire) and agency IT offices have been dragging their feet too. This new law will hopefully light a fire under their butts (and I have seen this at my agency).

Posted by: RobRoy1 | November 18, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm employed by a soul-sucking, bi-county quasi-governmental agency in MD that touted its telecommuting policy as a benefit when I began my tenure years ago, yet wouldn't allow anyone to use the benefit (except, paradoxically, for managers opposed to wider implementation) until very recently (and then only grudgingly!). All the while this same stupid agency kept preaching the "go green" mantra, and racist "Change is GOOD" nonsense. Idiot A-$-$-whole hypocrites. Telecommuting is good for my budget and schedule while increasing my morale and productivity as a worker drone. Win-win. Stupid dinosaurs.

Posted by: BeauTochs | November 18, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: itkonlyyou382 | November 18, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

If you can't trust the person you hired to telework, then fire that person.

Posted by: michaelhunt277 | November 18, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Finally progression. Even private industry should fire the fossils that can't move into 200. I agree, if you can't trust someone to telework, fire them. Also instate alternate schedules so those of us who are night owls can contribute as well. Not everyone is an 8-5er.

Posted by: davis_renee | November 18, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: prettyrose1 | November 18, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

oops 2010

Posted by: davis_renee | November 18, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

The solution is easy, Nervous Managers, simply manage by objectives (results) and monitor the product. If objectives are met and the product is acceptable, what's the worry? That the worker did it in their 'jammies, and/or from 7PM to 3AM? So what? Still think the employee is messing around--assign more objectives...

Still uncomfortable? Maybe you're not cut out to be a modern manager...quit.

Posted by: dnickell | November 18, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

It is difficult to understand how this legislation could be anything other than a great net cost benefit for taxpayers. Even though the revenue estimates show a modest administrative cost, the potential taxpayer savings are substantial. The bill could lead to reduced need for federal office space and the attendant savings. State and local governments would face less transportation infrastructure maintenance. Non-federal workers would save time and commuting expenses. Auto pollution and gas demand would be reduced. The popularity of teleworking could help retain the better federal workers and attract higher quality workers to the federal workforce in the future.

We certainly sympathize with the need to watch budget costs, and legislators are right to scrutinize every proposed new program. When all of the indirect but real cost benefits of this bill are factored in, we believe it will produce a savings. The appropriate next step would be to study the effect of the measure after it has been implemented, looking at costs as well as both direct and all indirect savings. If it isn’t working repeal it. If it is, it would be time to look for ways to expand telework opportunities in the private sector as well.

Bruce Hahn
American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance and
the American Homeowners Foundation

Posted by: brucehahn | November 19, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I must admit to mixed feelings about this. I'm not a manager but my observations in my own office are that those who do telework are the least productive staff members.

Posted by: seaduck2001 | November 19, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

We all know this makes sense, so let it be. If there are problems, let management solve them, that's what they get paid to do.

Posted by: RonArt | November 23, 2010 6:26 AM | Report abuse

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