House lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday extending some federal workers' opportunity to telecommute. The bill is a first for U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont.
The bill, which passed on a voice vote with no record taken, extends a pilot program under which 10,000 examiners for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have been working from home. Gianforte, the bill’s primary sponsor, is a proponent of telecommuting as a way to boost the Montana economy and end the “brain drain” of young people leaving the state for better pay elsewhere.
“Really, any desk job can be done remotely if you think about it,” Gianforte said. “People doing GIS work for the Forest Service could do that from home. Clearly if you’re the person working the ticket booth at Yellowstone National Park, you can’t.
“The added benefit is we have patent examiners in Bozeman, Butte, Billings and Missoula. So the Montana economy has already benefited somewhat from this.”
Gianforte promoted telecommuting in his unsuccessful 2016 campaign for governor.
Patent examiners research new patents, making sure the details being considered for exclusive ownership don’t conflict with existing patents. There are more than 6,000 examiners working full time away from government offices now. The estimated government savings from allowing examiners to telecommute was more than $77 million last year.
The telecommuting project stems from a 2010 Telework Enhancement Act. The pilot was set to expire this month, but will continue for three more years. The bill originated in early November from the House Oversight Committee, of which Gianforte is a member. Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, is the bill’s co-sponsor.