In a move that could save the government billions, Congress passed a bill to increase telecommuting among federal employees.
The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (H.R. 1722) expands teleworking opportunities for federal employees, and mandates that agencies set up frameworks and policies to support telecommuting.
The November 18 vote marked passage in the House at 254 to 152, following unanimous passage in the Senate in September.
Last winter’s snowstorms likely served as a strong motivator to push the bill forward. According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the cost of lost productivity during last winter’s snowstorms amounted to a staggering $71 million a day. By comparison, OPM estimates the five-year cost to implement the nationwide federal telework program at $30 million.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a lead author of the Telework Enhancement Act, described the legislation as “a cost savings measure that will help the federal government implement a flexible workplace strategy proven successful in the private sector.”
The legislation would require the head of each executive agency to establish a policy under which employees may be authorized to telework and allow authorized employees to telework at least 20 percent of the time.
Not every employee is eligible under the legislation. The bill exempts employees whose official duties require, on a daily basis, the direct handling of secure materials or involve an on-site activity that cannot be performed remotely. Employees under disciplinary review are also ineligible.
As reported in the Washington Post, the Patent and Trademark office is a federal agency leader in telework. That agency reports that it was able to consolidate nearly 50,000 square feet of space and avoid $1.5 million in rent per year because of telework.
And according to Kate Lister, principal researcher at the San Diego-based Telework Research Network, the new bill could save the government over $7,000 per telecommuter. While 61 percent of the federal workforce holds a telework-compatible job, less than eight percent of those eligible do so on a regular basis.
Using assumptions from a 2006 study by the U.S. General Services Administration (conducted by Booz Allen), the Telework Research Network estimates that that if those eligible employees who wanted to work from home (79 percent according to a recent Federal Telework Study) did so just one day a week (the level set by H.R. 1722), federal agencies would increase productivity by over $4.6 billion each year—equivalent to 26,000 man years of work.
Among other savings the Telework Research Network is predicting: $2.3 billion in annual absenteeism and $3.1 billion in annual employee turnover.