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Katrina may push agencies towards telework

Federal agencies have satisfied minimum telework requirements set by Congress but still have much work to do, Congress' main telework proponent says.

Earlier this summer, the Cyber Security Industry Alliance released a paper detailing the federal government's "puny" uptake of telework (telecommuting to some) and the inadequate reasons for this slowness. Now, in the wake of Katrina, the need is great for government employees to work, even though offices may be closed and roads inaccessible. 

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) has been the leading proponent of federal telework for a decade and had threatened to pull $5  million in funding from five agencies if they didn't get their telework programs to at least meet some minimum guidelines. According to a recent General Accounting Office report, the agencies did meet requirements Wolf set in an appropriations bill last year.

But, Wolf said in a letter to the agencies, there is much more the federal government should do here, according to the Washington Post's federal columnist, Stephen Barr. Wolf "believes that there are significant strides still to be made to increase opportunities for employees to telework," that he wants to see quarterly progress reports, and hopes to see more  options made available.

Wolf also wrote President Bush last week, pointing to Hurricane Katrina and the jump in gasoline prices as reasons to increase telecommuting in the government. In his letter, Wolf asked Bush "to embrace telework as a workplace priority."

He said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, anthrax scares and Katrina have shown that government operations can be quickly overwhelmed. "In the wake of these events, if a government-wide telework program were established and operational as a cornerstone of the federal workplace, we could ensure that necessary telework habits will be in place in the event of a similar disaster in the future," Wolf wrote.

After Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, Linda M. Springer , the director of the Office of Personnel Management, urged agencies to use flexibilities in workplace rules, such as telecommuting, to reduce fuel consumption.

In his letter to Bush, Wolf praised the General Services Administration for deciding to pick up the costs at 14 regional telework centers for federal employees who wish to use them because of high gasoline prices.