Obama Administration Encourages Federal Workers to Stay Home to Lessen Carbon Footprint on Nation’s Capital

By Penny Starr | February 18, 2011 | 4:10 PM EST

(CNSNews.com) - Thousands of federal workers stayed home for at least some part of this week after pledging through teleworkexchange.com not to commute to work to mark Telework Week, Feb. 14-18.

The Web site, which acts as a platform for federal agencies and other interested parties to promote and implement telecommuting, claims that 39,141 people – much of them federal workers in the D.C. metro area – pledged to work at least some of the five-day workweek from home. The amount “saved” by cutting commuting costs over the week is $2,698,447, according to the “rolling calculator” on the Web site.

The calculator also determined that 3,594,718 pounds of “pollutants” were kept out of the environment by workers staying at home rather than commuting to work.

Cindy Auten, general manager of teleworkexchange.com who works from her home in Loudoun County, Va., told CNSNews.com that the numbers on the Web site are calculated from information provided by visitors who make a pledge, including data about their commute, such as the type of car they drive or their mode of public transportation, and the distance of their commute.

The Web site touts telecommuting as a “win-win-win opportunity for agencies/organizations, employees and the environment.”

Teleworking increases workforce productivity, promotes life/work balance, saves consumers money, reduces traffic and “greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the Web site.

Auten said that her organization gets the “majority” of its funding from the private sector, with federal agencies donating funds to support some its programs, such as Telework Week and the twice-yearly “town hall” meetings held to promote telecommuting.

Auten said the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) are the most active supporters of telework.

“They are walking the talk, I guess,” Auten said.

Other federal agencies actively promoting telework are the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), according to Auten.

Auten said her organization’s efforts have “certainly” benefited from the Obama administration’s environmental policies.

On Oct. 5, 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that called for federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, including evaluating employees’ commuting profiles.

On Dec. 9, 2010 Obama signed into law the Telework Enhancement Act (H.R. 1722). It calls for federal agencies to establish a telework policy, notify all employees of their telework eligibility, establish interactive programs for teleworkers and telework managers, designate a telework managing officer and provide yearly progress reports to OPM.

Some Republicans argued against passage of the bill, citing a number of concerns about the value of telecommuting. In a Nov. 18 bulletin from the Republican Study Committee chaired by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), some of those concerns were spelled out, including telework being another “perk” for federal employees and lower productivity of federal workers.

The report also said that Public Law 106-346 already directs the executive branch to establish policies for employees to participate in telework programs “to the maximum extent possible without diminishing performance.”

Auten argues that employees can actually be more productive when working at home because they are less distracted.

On its “Telework Milestones” portion of the Web site, one milestone for January 2010 states the Obama administration would be focused on three areas of teleworking – business continuity, creating jobs, including jobs for disabled people, and “reducing carbon footprints.”

Auten said that managers are the most resistant to telecommuting because of issues they have about controlling their employees.

“Management has a fear of losing control of their employees and what telework will do is expose the fact that managers need to actually manage and focus on the work output as opposed to time and attendance,” Auten said.