Gianforte’s teleworking bill eyes rural workers, extends federal pilot program

A teleworking bill introduced by Rep. Greg Gianforte and signed into law by President Donald Trump could help bring a national wage to workers in rural Montana, allowing them to work remotely from nearly any location. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A teleworking bill introduced by Rep. Greg Gianforte and signed into law by President Donald Trump could help bring a national wage to workers in rural Montana, allowing them to work remotely from nearly any location.

That, of course, depends upon the availability of broadband Internet, which Gianforte said is expanding but needs additional work.

“This bill is designed to help federal agencies allow workers to work remotely, telecommuting,” Gianforte told the Missoula Current this week. “It’s a way to bring some of these jobs to Montana, because we all want to live in the most beautiful place.”

Gianforte said the bill extends a program at the U.S Patent and Trademark Office, which has expanded its teleworking workforce that allows employees to live anywhere in the country.

That saved taxpayers roughly $77 million last year. Gianforte believes other federal agencies will follow suit.

“For the longest time, ag has been our No. 1 industry, comparable to natural resources, and we have a strong and growing tourism industry,” Gianforte said. “We should be encouraging all of that, but we should be looking at additional cylinders to put on that engine. The reality is, any desk job can be done remotely if you have a good Internet connection.”

Gianforte, who was in Missoula on Monday to meet with several technology leaders, said the state’s tech industry is growing quickly. The Montana High Tech Business Alliance now claims more than 350 members who produced more than $1.7 billion in revenue last year.

Back in the 1990s when Gianforte started RightNow Technologies, naysayers suggested a global business couldn’t arise in a rural state like Montana. But technology has leveled the playing field, he said, allowing workers in Montana to conduct business globally.

“The Internet truly removes geography as a constraint,” Gianforte said. “This would allow a spouse of a rancher or farmer to take job in Denver, Spokane or Washington, D.C., and earn a national wage in a rural community. It’s one of the things we have to look at doing so we can get more vibrancy, and maybe not as many of our kids need to leave the state.”

Gianforte, a Republican, introduced the bill with Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., last November. The bill extends the teleworking pilot program for three years.

“I hope it serves as a test bed for other federal agencies,” he said.