OPM orders agencies to increase telecommuting

Under pressure from a key architect of the federal government's telecommuting policy, the Office of Personnel Management is pushing agencies to increase telecommuting options for federal employees. Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Steven Cohen recently sent a memo instructing department and agency heads to "take a fresh look at the barriers that currently inhibit the use of [telecommuting], act to remove them and increase actual participation." Cohen said agencies must identify positions that lend themselves to telecommuting and then offer those employees the option of working from home or at a telecommuting center. Agencies must report on their telecommuting arrangements by April 2. By law, federal agencies must establish policies allowing eligible employees to telecommute. The law also requires OPM to ensure that 25 percent of the federal workforce is participating in telecommuting programs at least part of the time by April 2001. Until recently, OPM had focused only on encouraging agencies to develop telecommuting policies. In January, Cohen issued a memo to agency heads instructing them to develop telecommuting policies because OPM "must assure that 25 percent of the total federal workforce is covered by such policies within six months." But Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., insisted that OPM go beyond mere policy and require federal managers to develop viable telecommuting options. Wolf was responsible for adding the language setting telecommuting goals to the fiscal 2001 Transportation appropriations bill. "It is my understanding that most agencies already have some type of telework policy in place. My concern is that telework is not a real option to most federal employees. My intention is to give federal employees a real, usable option to telework at least one day a week, not reinforce vague, complex policy at the macro-level," Wolf said in a memo to Cohen. On Tuesday, Wolf met with OPM officials and personnel managers from more than 15 agencies about telecommuting. In a written statement afterward, Wolf said, "Telecommuting has become a quality of life issue. Studies show that telecommuters are more productive, are happier and are spending more time with their families." While those assertions may be true, many federal managers are clearly uncomfortable with telecommuting. A June 2000 study by the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government found that most federal managers are uninterested in telework, despite enthusiasm for the concept from many of the employees they manage.
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