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Patent and Trademark Office and other federal employees would be presumptively eligible to telework, and federal agencies would be required to establish telework policies and incorporate them into their continuity of operations planning, known as COOP, under legislation passed by the House Nov. 18 by a vote of 254-152 and sent to President Obama for his signature, which is expected.
The Telework Improvements Act (H.R. 1722) was introduced in March 2009 by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.). Although it passed the House July 14, setting up the Senate vote, slight differences between the two bills meant that the House needed to vote on the bill again before it could be sent to Obama.
The Telework Improvements Act will allow USPTO to further expand its workforce to a “nationwide” workforce. In particular, H.R. 1722 includes a provision to allow the USPTO to waive OPM's biweekly reporting requirement for employees who live beyond 50-miles from Alexandria, Va. I will soon announce the establishment of an oversight committee, as required by the law, so that we can move forward to implement this legislation. The oversight committee will be comprised of equal numbers of representatives of management and of labor to ensure the legislation is implemented as effectively as possible throughout the USPTO.
I am also pleased to report that USPTO's award-winning telework program was mentioned prominently by members of Congress throughout this process, including today on the House floor. I am very proud of our telework program at the USPTO and of our employees who have made this program such a great success. You have led the way in demonstrating how telework can be implemented as an effective business strategy in the Federal Government, and how telework can result in greater employee productivity, improved morale and increased efficiencies.
“By lifting the bi-weekly reporting requirement, the legislation would help the USPTO recruit and retain our highly skilled workforce both in the Mid-Atlantic area and throughout the United States, while minimizing the costs associated with workforce expansion,” Kappos said in a July blog post. “This in turn would enable the Agency to expand our traditional hiring methods and seek out talented workers in all areas of the country where the expertise exists to fulfill our mission.”
H.R. 1722, which passed the Senate by voice vote Sept. 29, would require agencies to:
• within 180 days after the bill is signed, determine the eligibility for telework of all agency employees and notify employees of their eligibility for telework;
• provide telework training programs for both employees and managers, and ensure that no distinction is made between teleworkers and non-teleworkers for purposes of performance appraisals, work requirements, or other acts involving managerial discretion;
• establish policies that would (1) ensure that telework does not diminish employee performance or agency operations, (2) exclude employees whose duties require daily direct handling of secure materials or on-site activity that cannot be handled remotely or at an alternate worksite, except in emergency situations, and (3) be incorporated as part of the agency's COOP plans;
• provide reports to the Chief Human Capital Officers Council on agency management efforts to promote telework; and
• designate a telework managing officer responsible for overseeing the agency's telework program.
The bill specifies that federal employees who have been disciplined for certain types of activities--including having a seriously delinquent tax debt; viewing, downloading, or exchanging pornography while at work or while using a government computer; or being absent from work without permission for more than five days in a calendar year--would not be eligible to telework.
In addition to providing agencies with guidance on their telework policies--including in the areas of pay and leave, agency closures, performance management, official worksites, recruitment and retention, and accommodations for employees with disabilities--the Office of Personnel Management under the measure would be required to help agencies establish qualitative and quantitative teleworking goals, maintain a central telework website, and report to Congress annually on each agency's telework program.
The Government Accountability Office would be responsible for reviewing the OPM's annual reports and submitting its own annual reports to Congress on the federal telework program.
The bill also would allow agencies, with the approval of the General Services Administration, to create travel expense test programs to accommodate teleworking employees. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget would be required under the bill to issue guidelines on information security protections for telework.
By Louis C. LaBrecque and Nathan Pollard
Text of H.R. 1722 is at http://pub.bna.com/ptcj/TeleworkMeasure.pdf
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