Agency officials say resistance to telework is dropping

Agency officials told lawmakers Thursday that managerial resistance to telecommuting is gradually diminishing.

Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James and Stephen Perry, head of the General Services Administration, told members of the House Government Reform Committee that the telework goals laid out in a 2001 law backed by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. (P.L. 106-346) are not unrealistic, but will take longer to implement than the bill mandates.

The law required that 25 percent of eligible workers have the opportunity to telework by April 2001, 50 percent by April 2002, and 75 percent by April 2003.

"I do think we can get there," James said. "The only thing that's unrealistic is the timing." She cited the size of the federal workforce and necessity for cultural changes to be made within each agency as the primary reason for the relatively slow progress.

Perry acknowledged that agencies have not considered telework a priority. That's beginning to change as a result of GSA and OPM efforts, he said. Both Perry and James said that managerial resistance to telework, one of the most commonly cited roadblocks, is lessening.

OPM has a three-pronged strategy to promote telecommuting, agency officials said in a Wednesday press briefing.

First, the agency is focusing on telework as an emergency preparedness tool. Abby Block, OPM's deputy associate director for employee and family support policy, said that increasing the number of employees who telecommute at least part of the time will help in emergency situations.

"You can't get everybody on the bus," Block said. "You need a cadre of people who have gotten the kinks out and are just used to working in a nonoffice environment."

The second OPM focus is on allaying managers' concerns about supervising telecommuters. One of managers' main worries, Block said, is that if they give employees the option to work away from the office and it doesn't work well, they can't take the benefit away. To dispel this fear, OPM encourages managers to implement clear-cut agreements for trial periods that free both the manager and employee from obligation to continue the arrangement after the trial ends.

Finally, OPM is moving away from treating telework as an independent topic for training purposes to integrating it in courses on management, emergency preparedness and other subjects.

While Block, James and Perry all said that telework is picking up speed, agencies are not going fast enough for some legislators.

At Thursday's hearing, committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va. stated his support for a provision in the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill that would withhold $5 million from those agencies if they did not prove that eligible employees were given the opportunity to telecommute.

"I am prepared to … work to implement similar language that would apply to all federal agencies," Davis said. "Let the message be clear: We are serious and ready to help OPM and GSA hold agencies' feet to the fire."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.