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U.S. spending bill encourages telecommuting

Federal agencies that don't let workers telecommute could feel it in their budgets.

Tech Industry
The evening commute in the Washington area may soon be a little less hectic, thanks to a small provision embedded in the government's giant 2005 spending bill.

The provision, authored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), requires several major federal agencies, including the Commerce, Justice and State Departments, to permit their employees to work from home or "telework." If they don't, the agencies could lose a $5 million slice of their budgets.

"With all the advances in technology today, there is just no reason to strap yourself in a metal box every morning only to drive to an office where you sit in front of a computer all day," Wolf said in the statement.

Congress approved the temporary $388 billion 2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which is subject to revision, on Nov. 20.

The provision also withholds $5 million from the budgets of the Small Business Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission until each expands its telecommuting policy to include all eligible workers.

In addition, the bill requires the departments to report the number of workers who telecommute to the Appropriations Committee on a quarterly basis and designate a "telework coordinator."

Just 6 percent of 1.7 million federal employees work from home at least once a week, according a recent survey of 74 agencies by the Office of Personnel Management.

"The benefits of teleworking far outweigh any potential downside that managers attempt to cite," Wolf said in his statement. "Survey after survey show that telecommuters are extremely productive. Telecommuters have higher morale, have less stress from fighting traffic every day and take fewer sick days."

One survey, reported on this week by the BBC, concluded that commuting ranks right up there with working as a fighter pilot or riot police officer in terms of stress.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a revised version of the 3,000-page spending bill on Monday.

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