WASHINGTON – Pentagon employee Delene Snell swears by telecommuting, saying the two days a week she works from the Hagerstown Telework Center make her more productive and allow her to spend more time with her family.
The average telecommuter could save 110 hours this year by telecommuting, according to government estimates, and reduced commutes would also improve air quality, reduce highway maintenance costs and save over a billion gallons of gasoline.
But while federal agencies are increasingly allowing workers like Snell to telecommute, federal contractors who want to do so say they hit a dead end.
The House last week unanimously approved a bill meant to address that problem, by forcing federal agencies to give equal consideration to bids from contractors who allow telecommuting. There is currently no Senate version of the bill.
The Freedom to Telecommute Act of 2002, introduced by Rep. Thomas M. Davis, R-Va., would prohibit federal agencies from penalizing federal contractors who permit telecommuting. It allows an exception if contractors certify in writing that telecommuting would pose a security risk, such as the electronic handling of classified information.
Local business groups applauded the legislation.
“Telecommuting improves the quality of life for millions of hard-working Americans,” said Tim Hugo, executive director of CapNet, the technology division of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
“This legislation will enable federal contractors to perform their jobs while spending more quality time with their families and it will reduce traffic congestion in our heavily populated areas,” Hugo said.
Telecommuting allows workers to cut or eliminate their commutes by working at home or close to home at a privately run regional center equipped with computers, phones, faxes and videoconferencing like the center in Hagerstown. Other centers in Maryland are in Bowie, Frederick, Laurel, Prince Frederick and Waldorf.
About 75 percent of the people who use at the Hagerstown facility are federal employees, but more and more private-sector workers are joining, said Norine Dagliano, who works at the center.
“The federal government should be a telecommuting leader. Unfortunately, federal agencies have been reluctant to embrace the concept,” Davis said.
Snell said her supervisor was initially wary of the two days a week she planned to work from the Hagerstown Telework Center, but now she says the management is “very pleased.”
“I’m more productive because I don’t have to travel four hours a day,” Snell said. “I can do more and work more hours when I telecommute.”
Matt Cole, a Department of Energy engineer, also takes advantage of the Hagerstown facility. Besides shaving an hour of his commute, he said, telecommuting “allows me have some quiet time and catch up on reviewing documents and not be interrupted.”
Opposition to telecommuting generally comes from managers who fear the physical distance from the worker will lead to lower productivity.
“Federal managers are resistant to the concept because they would no longer be in position to monitor employees directly,” Davis said.
He hopes to change that mindset by exposing federal managers to telecommuting, through increased use of the practice by private contractors.
“This is one more way to help break down the managerial barriers to successful telecommuting in the federal government,” he said.
“There’s a mentality in the government that they want to see you there. This legislation is an effort to change that mindset.”