GAO To Allow Reimbursement of Home Internet Access for Some

GAO says that federal agencies can reimburse employees who use high speed internet access at home in connection with the agency’s telecommuting program.

How much are you paying to receive high speed internet access in your home? Depending on a variety of factors such as your location, the type of service you have and your provider, it is probably running about $40 – $50 per month.

But, if you are a federal employee, you may have a new benefit coming to your agency: Free high-speed internet access.

No doubt it will take awhile to work its way through the large federal bureaucracy and will not apply to all federal employees in any event. If you are still interested in possibly saving a few bucks each month, read on.

The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for a report on the propriety of reimbursing its employees for costs associated with maintaining high-speed internet access at employees’ homes incident to the agency’s telework program.

In other words, can a federal agency provide high speed internet access for one of its employees working out of that employee’s home?

The answer is yes but with several caveats. "…PTO may reimburse employees for high-speed internet access, but we recommend that PTO periodically review reimbursements to ensure that it has adequate safeguards against private misuse and is reimbursing employees for internet service used for official purposes." The GAO guidelines for setting up such a system are likely to apply to any agency that wants to reimburse employees the cost of their internet service.

In this case, the agency is establishing a telecommuting program under which some employees would telecommute up to 4 days per week–from their home in most cases. The agency is hopeful that the program will help its recruitment and retention and save money for the agency in the process.

An employee who wants to get paid back for the internet service would be eligible for only 50 or 100 percent reimbursement for ISP connection depending on the amount of monthly business use of the service. Employees would have to attest to the amount of time they used the internet for personal and business use and submit a copy of the bill from their internet service provider (ISP).

All associated services would not be paid by the agency. For example, GAO says the agency could not reimburse charges or costs associated with initiating or activating the service, installing it, payment of equipment or rental fees or taxes.

In these cases, the agency also has a way to measure employee productivity as employee performance plans establish standards for production rates.

Finally, GAO wants the agency to have a system to monitor the amount of private and personal use similar to what is used by some agencies to monitor a cell phone reimbursement plan for employees.