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capitol.jpgThe Telework Improvements Act (H.R. 1722) got a second chance in the House on July 14th and won. The same bill was narrowly defeated in May. A similar bill (S.707) passed unanimously in the Senate on May 24th.

While it’s been a mandate since the year 2000 that every federal worker telecommute to the maximum extent possible, participation rates are only slightly higher than those of the private sector. According to a recent report, only about 100,000 of the government’s 2 million workers telework at least one day a month–a number that’s actually declined in recent years. While still higher than private sector participation, only about 5 percent of the total federal workforce telework and less than 9% of those who are eligible do so.
If signed into law by the President, the Telework Improvements Act would, among other things, direct the Office of Personnel Management to issue regulations on telework, require agencies to come up with policies that permit teleworking for up to 20 percent of the hours worked over two weeks, require agencies to designate a telework managing officer, provide training to employees, and ensure that there are no distinctions between teleworkers and others in performance appraisals. Independent of this bill, the Obama administration has set a goal of having 150,000 teleworkers by 2011, and 500,000 by 2014.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates program costs at $30 million over a five year period. In fact, the staggering costs of lost productivity from federal workers during last Winter’s snowstorms–estimated by the government at $71 million a day–would pay for the five year cost of H.R. 1722 in one snow day.

The potential savings of the program were not presented by CBO. Using assumptions from a 2006 study commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration (conducted by Booz Allen), we used our Telework Savings Calculator to quantify the potential governments savings if those eligible federal employees who wanted to work from home did so just one day every other week (half the level required in H.R. 1722):

Agencies would:
- Increase productivity by over $2.3 billion each year – equivalent to 26,000 man years of work
- Save $850 million in annual real estate, electricity, and related costs
- Save $2.3 billion in annual absenteeism
- Save $3.1 billion in annual employee turnover
- Improve continuity of operations
- Improve work life balance and better address the needs of families, parents, and senior caregivers.
- Avoid the ‘brain drain’ effect of retiring boomers by allowing them to work flexibly
- Be able to recruit and retain the best people
- Offer fuller employment for disabled workers, rural residents, and military families

Federal Employees would:
- Achieve a better work-life balance
- Save $400-$1,400/year in transportation and work-related expenses
- Collectively save $57 million a year at the pumps
- Suffer fewer illnesses

The Nation would:
- Save almost 3 million barrels and $233 million in imported oil
- Reduce greenhouse gases by 532,000 tons/year–the equivlient of taking 97,000 cars off the road
- Reduce road travel by 1.2 billion miles/year saving $20 million in road maintenance
- Reduce road congestion thereby increasing productivity for non-teleworkers as well
- Save 1,000 people from traffic-related injury or death each year and save $117 million a year in related costs
- Improve emergency responsiveness
- Reduce pollution from road work and new office construction
- Preserve open spaces
- Alleviate the strain on our crumbling transportation infrastructure
- Reduce terrorism targets of opportunity

Talk of a national telework initiative has been rattling around Washington ever since the start of the current administration. While the Telework Improvements Act does nothing for the private sector–except perhaps reducing traffic in areas with significant government workers and possibly shortening the wait time at downtown D.C. Starbucks’–hopefully it will send a strong message of endorsement of the concept to the private sector.

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Vinoth Chandar