GOP wants greater oversight of telework bill

Republicans have promised to strengthen the oversight provisions in the telework bill that passed the House last Thursday and is now headed to President Obama's desk for a signature.

The Telework Enhancement Act sponsored by Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) aims to increase opportunities for federal employees to work from home or remote locations outside their main office. Agency heads would be required to establish policies and guidelines for employees to telecommute.

Proponents argue the move will save the government millions in the long term despite the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that implementing the bill will cost $30 million over five years. Among those pushing for the bill's passage were good government groups like the Partnership for Public Service and unions representing federal workers including the National Treasury Employees Union.

Critics, including Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) have argued the bill's cost is too high and rewards federal workers with additional benefits at a time when government must tighten its belt. Republicans were also upset the final bill doesn't include oversight provisions included in an earlier version of the bill passed by the House in July such as a rule that requires agencies to prove their telework program saves money.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who is expected to take over as chairman of the House Oversight Committee in the next Congress, has said he plans to work to restore some of the oversight provisions that were cut by the Senate. Issa said he supports the goal of increasing telework for federal workers but thinks the current bill create too much additional bureaucracy without preventing potential abuse.

Regardless, it appears evident the bill's passage will change the way federal managers must handle their employees. Some managers have expressed concern they will be unable to monitor employees who choose to work remotely. Management experts have emphasized that workers must be held accountable for their productivity while outside the office in much the same manner as when they work on-site.