Static cleared over the telework bill

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride for the Telework Enhancement Act. But after a hold by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was lifted, the bill passed on Monday.

Jodi Schneider, congressional expert and a senior editor in the Washington Bureau of the American Banker, said that, at least in the Senate, “there’s been a lot of general support for this bill.”

She said there’s nothing really “revolutionary” in the bill, and yet there was a hiccough.

Senator Leahy (D-Vt.) put a hold on the bill because of a dispute over a provision related to the Patent and Trademark Office. It really didn’t have a whole lot to do with the bill, and this just shows in the Senate, any one Senator is very powerful. You can put a hold on a bill because you like it, because you don’t like it, because you don’t like something else it may be related to and you don’t even have to tell anybody that you’re doing it.

Scheider said the general sense on the Hill is that Leahy lifted the hold because of pressure.

There is a general consensus that this is a good bill and that it’s the kind of thing that would help a lot of people, and he may have gotten a deal on the other bill. Often that’s what a Senator will do when you put a hold on something is to say “Okay, if you give me what I want on this other piece of legislation, or perhaps you move my other piece of legislation, or get an agreement that this will move forward, then I will then take my hold off the bill.” So that is usually what happens here.

After a few days on hold, the measure has moved and passed through the Senate.

Schneider noted, “you wonder what the actual effects of this will be.”

According to OPM itself, about 61 percent of federal workers are currently eligible to telework, as they say, to work from home on occasion, but only five percent do so regularly. So you wonder… how much do they need more legislation and how much do they just have to encourage this among people and maybe it doesn’t work in a lot of cases. Maybe it doesn’t make sense for various employees to do so.

The problem in the House is another matter. In short, a similar bill “failed to pass” despite solid support, after getting less than the required two-thirds vote under the suspension calendar.

Opponents voted down the measure, in part, due to the bill’s estimated $30 million implementation cost. Schneider said that shouldn’t hold back efforts to reintroduce it.

(Representative) John Sarbanes (D) who had sponsored the bill in the House, from Maryland, argued that it would actually save money in the long run, saying the federal employees for instance who worked from home during the snow storms saved… $30 million, interestingly, by maintaining operations so that the government wasn’t totally shut down. That has been an example of how teleworking could actually help things and save money in the long run. Hard to know.

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