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11/19/2010
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Congress Passes Federal Telework Bill

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation, which requires agencies to establish policies for employees to work remotely.

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The House of Representatives Thursday passed a bill giving federal employees more flexibility to telecommute and mandating the agencies set up frameworks and policies to do so.

Lawmakers have been considering the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 for some time, with many believing its passage to be a no brainer.

The bill -- which the Senate passed unanimously in September -- officially gives federal employees the eligibility to telework and requires agencies to establish telework policies. It also mandates that each agency designate a telework managing officer to oversee its telework program.

The House vote was a less agreeable affair, but still passed with a bipartisan vote of 254-152. The bill now moves on to President Obama for his approval, which he is expected to give.

While businesses have embraced telecommuting for some time, the public sector has been slower to adopt the policy. However, the federal government has been warming up to the idea under the Obama administration, making telework a more viable option for employees.

Federal employees at times have even been encouraged to do so from the administration.

For instance, for two days in April during the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, federal workers were urged to work from home to avoid traffic snarls from high-security measures. President Obama met with top leaders of more than 40 nations during the summit, one of the largest gatherings of heads of state.

Telecommuting also kept the government up and running for several days in February, when a series of snowstorms shut down federal offices for consecutive days.

Those instances were somewhat random, but the Telework Enhancement Act now puts structure around federal teleworking policy. To some, the bill, first introduced in March 2009, was a long time coming.

"Telework is an invaluable asset to the Federal government," said Cindy Auten, general manager of Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership that supports the federal teleworker community, in a press statement. "It is a readily available productivity tool for employees, it saves agencies money, and finally, it helps to protect the environment."

Indeed, teleworking has proven to save businesses and the federal government money by cutting energy and other on-site resource costs, and also should help the government better recruit and retain employees by giving them more flexibility.

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