Winter storm in Washington highlights telework

A massive winter storm bearing down on the Washington area and the release of President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget recommendation this week have drawn attention to the administration's efforts to increase telework in federal agencies.

"This severe weather forecast presents a key opportunity for agencies to test their telework plans in the context of emergency preparedness," Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry wrote to the government's chief human capital officers in a Feb. 4 memo encouraging them to allow agency employees with existing telework agreements to work remotely on Friday.

The metropolitan region's second major snowstorm of the season -- which could dump more than a foot of snow -- is scheduled to begin in late morning or early afternoon on Friday.

As of Thursday afternoon, the federal government in Washington was operating under an unscheduled leave policy. Employees who are unable to make it into the office on Friday can take leave, but they must inform their supervisors that they plan to do so. Emergency employees are expected to report to work.

The number of employees who telework could increase under Berry's leadership. Among the strategic goals for OPM included in Obama's budget proposal is boosting the number of federal employees who telework by 50 percent in 2011. In 2009, according to budget documents, 102,900 federal employees teleworked.

Early on, Berry adopted many of the provisions included in House and Senate legislation intended to advance federal telework. He created a council to determine best practices, and asked agencies to designate telework coordinators.

OPM is also in the process of designing a pilot program to help measure its impact on productivity and employee satisfaction and to determine models for telework and other alternate work schedule programs for agencies governmentwide. The pilot will include 500 employees both in Washington and outside the Beltway, and will last six months.

Steve O'Keefe, executive director of the Telework Exchange, a research and consulting organization, said agencies such as the Patent and Trademark Office that have been aggressive about promoting telework, often have clear productivity measurements, including how many applications employees process when working from home or an agency facility. Such metrics might not apply at other agencies.

"The $64,000 question is productivity," O'Keefe said. "How is the government measuring productivity for people who work in the office? It's not just a matter of how can we get productivity for people when they telework."

O'Keefe said serious weather events or concerns over infectious disease such as swine flu can be useful examples of the benefits of telework when it comes to the government's continuity of operations plans. But he emphasized that agencies still need to ensure they have the appropriate technology in place and that managers are prepared to deal with teleworkers well in advance of any emergency.

"I think the point here is that telework is not an 'in case of emergency, break glass' solution," O'Keefe said.

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:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


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