It's true that the D.C. area is home to one of the worst commutes in the nation. Think you can breeze through 66, 270, or the Beltway in rush hour? Good luck to you. They say it's going to rain. Better luck next time. I'll bet on something that has better odds, like the lottery.
Washington traffic is gridlocked, and apparently so is Capitol Hill. Last week, the House voted down H.R. 1722, The Telework Improvements Act. The bill is a common-sense effort to expand telework in the Federal government to reduce traffic congestion and smog, cut gas consumption, create job opportunities, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It will also increase productivity, retain talent in public service, maintain business operations, while saving Uncle Sam money.
Despite having support from both party lines, the bill needed two-thirds majority to pass and came up short with 147 Republicans voting it down. Telework receives bipartisan support. Previous telework legislation passed in the House during the 110th Congress.
Some claimed the bill would increase the deficit by $30 million – the reported bill cost over the next five years. I must point out that the legislation does not authorize any new appropriations of taxpayers' money. In fact, Federal agencies can use their existing budgets to make telework work. And it does work. Private sector has implemented these programs for years. Strike that. For decades. And the savings are big.
Telework allows IBM to reduce office space and save $56 million per year, every year.
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), who introduced the bill in March 2009, said he was pleased to have bipartisan support for the bill, but hoped more of his Republican colleagues who claim to be concerned about the deficit will take the time to understand this issue. “We need to expand telework opportunities to make our Federal workforce more productive and ensure that we can recruit and retain top talent to government. This bill would be a win for the taxpayer. It would also bolster the Federal workforce, improve traffic in the D.C. area, and reduce carbon emissions – all in one fell swoop.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), one of the primary co-sponsors of the bill said, "Telework can save tens of millions of dollars for the Federal government in terms of lost productivity and that doesn't even take into account the benefits to commuters, the region's air quality, reduced use of foreign oil, integration of telework into Federal agencies' Continuity of Operations Plans, and recruitment and retention of quality Federal workers." As you may recall, Connolly was an integral part of Fairfax County's telework program, before joining Congress last year.
Telework isn't just an employee perk. It's a critical strategy to Federal government operations. Approximately 60 percent of Federal employees are eligible to telework. Despite only having 10 percent of eligible Federal employees' teleworking, many Federal agencies are making great strides in implementing programs. Eighty three percent of eligible Trademark attorneys from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office take part in telework. Implementing telework enabled the agency to avoid spending $11 million in additional office space. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has empowered about 3,300 employees to telework. Roughly 36,000 civilian Defense Department employees are due to relocate over the next three years as part of the base realignment and closure, or BRAC. Agencies, like DISA, are using telework to retain their knowledgeable workforce during the move. In a recent survey, 70 percent of DISA employees said the option to telework has impacted their decision to stay with the agency after the move.
Nearly 60 percent of General Services Administration employees worked remotely during this year's blizzard. The Office of Personnel Management's Director John Berry reported that the Federal government saved approximately $30 million a day in productivity by teleworking during the snow storms. A perfect example of the telework return.
What will it take to unlock gridlock? The hope is that the House will schedule a vote soon under regular order. A similar bill, S.707 awaits a vote in the Senate. Perhaps Sens. Akaka (D-HI), Voinovich (R-OH), and Landrieu (D-LA), the bill sponsors, will unlock gridlock. In the meantime, area commuters will have to chance their luck on the beltway. I hear they are calling for rain.
-- Cindy Auten is the general manager of Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on expanding telework awareness and adoption.