Some of the most frequent questions POPA gets are: Will the TEAPP be extended? If not, what will happen to the current participants? What option will employees have who want to join PHP beyond the 50 mile radius of an office?
To answer those questions, it is worth providing a short history of telework in our bargaining unit. Prior to TEAPP (the Telework Enhancement Act Pilot Program), employees were able to telework under partial or full-time telework agreements, depending on their job functions. All telework agreements had duty stations at Alexandria; there were no regional offices back then, and the employees were required to travel back to Alexandria twice a pay period no matter where they lived.
For employees who lived further away, this was a burden. Employees would come to the Alexandria area on Thursday or Friday at the end of a pay period and work at the USPTO headquarters on Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, in order to meet their requirement for two pay periods with a single trip. The trip required travel on their own time, as well as at least five days away from home every four weeks.
At some point, the Agency determined based on OPM regulations that hotelers within a 50 mile radius of the headquarters could be permitted to change their duty station to their homes, not have a regular reporting requirement and still be required to travel back to campus on their own time and at their own expense when ordered to do so. This took care of local hotelers but the rest of the hotelers were still paying for and making those long expensive trips back to their duty station, Alexandria, on their own time. The Agency could have, but was unwilling, to allow these hotelers to change their duty stations because had the Agency permitted it, the Agency would have had to pay for all required travel to and from Alexandria. At that time the Agency did not have a good idea how much travel, if any, would be required and what the cost would be for this travel.
Then came the Telework Enhancement Act which allowed the USPTO to try out a new program - TEAPP. The program involved the employees agreeing to waive Agency payment for mandatory travel up to four trips a year in exchange for being permitted to change their duty stations to their homes so as to avoid those time-consuming and expensive regular trips back to Alexandria every four weeks. While there are other provisions of the Act, that one is the relevant one for our discussion. If the pilot ends, employees can no longer waive their rights to payment for mandatory trips and the Agency would be required to pay for all mandatory travel. This seems like a big deal, but it really isn’t. Since the inception of the TEAPP, the Agency has learned that it rarely has to bring anyone back to the Office on a mandatory trip. The Agency instituted PaTH in Patents which is a mandatory trip every few years. Part of their reason for instituting PaTH was to test the process for bringing employees back in if need be. But these trips are not really necessary for the proper functioning of the Agency. So the Agency could afford to continue to allow employees to change duty stations with or without the TEAPP and with or without PaTH if too expensive for the Agency.
Currently, the Agency is still seeking an extension to TEAPP. POPA is also working on an alternate agreement to go into place if TEAPP is not extended. POPA would like this alternate agreement to allow employees currently on TEAPP to stay where they are or change duty stations if they so desire as under the current pilot so as to avoid regular trips back to the Office. We would also like the new program to allow new participants to move outside the 50 mile radius of an office without a reporting requirement. Nothing is finalized yet, but we will keep you posted.