Are you ready?


National Preparedness Month starts next week. This year, in addition to stressing the necessary preparations for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, the focus will be on a new challenge: pandemic flu.

The H1N1 virus (the illness formerly known as swine flu) is expected to come back strong in the fall and agencies have to be prepared to continue operating in the event federal employees become infected, said Josh Sawislak, acting chief of the General Services Administration’s Office of Emergency Response and Recovery.

For GSA, pandemic preparation is more than making sure federal agencies have enough hand sanitizer to go around, Sawislak said. With a virus that spreads as quickly as H1N1, the agency will also have to ensure it quickly notifies tenants of federally owned and leased space when a fellow fed falls ill with H1N1, while protecting the privacy of the individual, he said.

Preparedness is also about making sure employees are up-to-date on their telework policies and training in case employees need to be quarantined or offices need to close to prevent the spread of the virus, Sawislak said in an interview. GSA sets telework policy for the government and runs telework centers for federal agencies.

“It’s important to be equipped and trained to do it and to have other people know how to work with [teleworkers]when they’re not in the office,” Sawislak said.

Sawislak and others will be dispensing this advice, along with personal and professional preparedness tips for pandemic flu and other emergencies, at training events throughout September.

“Embrace the boy scout motto and work hard to ‘be prepared,’” Sawislak said.

For more information on disaster and flu preparedness for your home and family, visit


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  1. Nicole Belson Goluboff on

    A steep tax penalty for telecommuting may frustrate agencies trying to incorporate telework in their preparedness plans.

    As things stand now, if a federal employee lives outside the state where her agency is located and decides to telecommute some of the time, the agency’s state can tax the employee on 100% of her income – both the income she earns when works in the agency’s state and the income she earns when she works from home, in a different state. Because the employee’s home state can also tax the wages she earns at home, she may be double taxed for telecommuting.

    Consider, for example, a Connecticut resident who works for the U.S. EPA office in Manhattan. The employee and her supervisor agree that she will telecommute two days a week to help her become comfortable with the work arrangement in case a severe outbreak of the swine flu requires her to work offsite for a sustained period. Connecticut will tax her on the wages she earns on her Connecticut days. New York will then tax those wages again. She will be double taxed simply for trying to help her agency prepare for a possible swine flu emergency. Suppose, too, that this employee’s neighbor in Connecticut also works at the New York EPA office. This employee begins telecommuting for the first time when his son exhibits flu symptoms. New York will double tax him, too – for trying to stay on the job without infecting his co-workers in New York.

    The threat of having to pay two states taxes on the same income deters people from telecommuting. As a result, agencies may struggle to grow a seasoned staff of telecommuters who can keep the agency running if the flu precludes many or all of its employees from working at the office.

    A bi-partisan bill called the Telecommuter Tax Fairness Act is pending in Congress that would eliminate the double tax risk menacing interstate telecommuters. It would prohibit states from taxing nonresidents on the income they earn in their home states.

    To assure that federal agencies can use telework to sustain operations in the event the H1N1 virus makes on-site work impossible, Congress must act quickly to abolish the punitive tax on telework by passing the Telecommuter Tax Fairness Act.

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