Group encourages government workers to telecommute

The Telework Exchange aims to educate agencies about the benefits of remote workers

WASHINGTON -- A group of technology vendors, along with U.S. government technology leaders, on Tuesday launched an effort to encourage federal workers to explore telecommuting as an option.

The Telework Exchange, with a Web site at http://www.teleworkexchange.org, is focused on showing federal agencies and government workers the benefits of telecommuting, or teleworking. The organization, announced during a press conference at the FOSE government IT trade show here, comes on the heels of a survey published in January that showed nearly two-thirds of U.S. government workers haven't been given the chance to telecommute even though the U.S. Congress has established penalties for agencies that don't allow telework options.

Government-focused IT vendor CDW Government Inc. (CDW-G), which released the survey, is among the founders of Telework Exchange, along with IT vendors Intel Corp., Citrix Systems Inc. and Juniper Networks Inc. Since the survey was published, CDW-G found only a slight increase in the number of federal workers who have telecommuted -- 20 percent in the survey released Tuesday, compared to 19 percent in the earlier survey.

Telecommuting could be especially attractive in the Washington, D.C., area as a way to avoid frequent traffic problems and reduce pollution, Telework Exchange members said. In addition, teleworking options can help government agencies attract new workers and help government agencies operate in times of bad weather or security threats, said Karen Evans, administrator of the Office of the Electronic Government and Information Technology at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

"We really want to eliminate the telework gridlock," she said.

A law passed by Congress in 2000 requires federal agencies to create plans where eligible employees "may participate in telecommuting to the maximum extent possible without diminished employee performance." Congress has also proposed fining agencies for not allowing telecommuting.

Teleworkexchange.org will include several resources for federal workers and others interested in telecommuting. It will eventually include a resource center with educational materials on telecommuting, and will include a discussion board to talk about telework issues. The site also has a commuting calculator, showing how much money commuters spend and how much pollution they cause.

For example, a U.S. government commuter driving a round trip of 40 miles a day in a large truck or sport utility vehicle would spend about US$8,100 a year on commuting, and pump 6.8 tons of pollutants into the atmosphere, according to the calculator.

At the press conference, Telework Exchange passed out bumper stickers saying, "Honk if you'd rather be telecommuting," and, "My other car is a PC."

The Telework Exchange will include an advisory board with congressional representatives, OMB and other agency representatives, and industry representatives.

"The objective here is to accelerate the pace, to move teleworking into the fast lane, if you will," said Stephen W.T. O'Keeffe, executive director of the Telework Exchange.

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