Representative Gerald E. "Gerry" Connolly is serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginiaís 11th District, which encompasses Fairfax County, Prince William County, and Fairfax City in Northern Virginia. Connolly, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was an original co-sponsor of the Telework Improvements Act of 2010 (H.R. 1722) which passed the House in July. Prior to his election to Congress, Connolly served a total of 14 years on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, serving the last five as chairman. Congressman Connolly recently spoke with The Teleworker about the passage of H.R. 1722, its impact on the Federal government and Washington D.C. area, and where the bill will go from here.
As an original co-sponsor of the Telework Improvements Act of 2010, what will be the impact of this legislation on Federal agencies once it is signed into law?
Some agencies, like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, already have a Telework Managing Officer, but most do not. One immediate positive impact will be the assignment of a professional staff member at each agency to coordinate telework programs. The other major shift will be in agency philosophy. Previously there has been no expectation that employees should telework; now managers are expected to find ways to help eligible employees work remotely. Since a number of Federal workers were able to telework during the back-to-back snowstorms that hit Washington, D.C. last February and shut down the Federal government for more than four days, we were able to save an estimated $30 million per day that otherwise would have been lost productivity.
How do you see the bill impacting the D.C. Metropolitan area?
In the absence of funding to pay for desperately-needed transportation improvements, this legislation is the best alternative to help the hard-pressed commuters of our region because it has the potential to reduce dramatically the number of cars on area roads. If 20 percent of the regionís total workforce teleworked one day per week we could reduce traffic congestion by more than five percent. In addition, this bill will reduce ground level ozone (smog) pollution, particularly during the summer months.
What are the next steps for the Telework Improvements Act to become law?
We are discussing how to proceed with the Senate, which recently passed similar legislation (Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, S. 707). The two chambers could conference the bills, or the Senate could take up the recently passed House bill. The President already has expressed support for telework, so we hope to have him sign the bill into law as quickly as possible.
Why is telework an important issue for you?
It provides multiple tangible benefits for minimal cost: 1) ensures continuity of operations during an emergency; 2) reduces congestion on our clogged roadways; 3) improves air quality; and 4) enhances recruitment and retention of highly skilled employees.
Considering your time as Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, what role do you believe state and local governments need to play in building public awareness of and business support for telework?
Local governments in the National Capital Region already are leading the way, with Fairfax County employees exceeding 20 percent telework participation – some 2 to 3 times the current Federal participation rate. Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine issued an Executive Order directing state agencies to expand telework programs, so I would argue that the Federal government actually lags behind local and state governments in capitalizing on telework.
Given your career in the private sector before entering public service, what lessons can the government learn from the private sector regarding telework?
Based on my experience, we need to expand Federal telework to compete in Northern Virginia's labor market. For example, more than one third of employees at AT&T telework one day per week, reducing real estate and electricity costs while improving the company's ability to recruit and retain highly qualified employees.