OPM report shows telework numbers far below goal

Federal agencies have made improvements in implementing telecommuting plans, but are far below the goals laid out four years ago by Congress, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

While the number of telecommuting employees grew from 90,010 in 2002 to 102,921 in 2003, that number is less than 4 percent of the federal workforce, according to OPM's 2003 Telework Report. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who pushed the telework legislation through Congress, had pushed for 75 percent of the federal workforce to be telecommuting at least part of the time by 2003.

"There's still a hesitancy in managers to accept it," said Dan Scandling, spokesman for Wolf, in an interview with Government Executive. "Change is difficult to accept sometimes," he continued. "[Wolf] will be very disappointed that the numbers aren't where they should be."

While OPM and the General Services Administration have looked to increase participation rates through manager and employee education, promotional brochures, newsletter articles, and training and consultation for interested managers, annual progress continues to crawl.

Under the 2001 Federal Telework Mandate (P.L. 106-346), managers must allow eligible employees to participate to the maximum extent possible without diminishing employee performance. The requirements were to be extended to 25 percent of the workforce by April 2001, increasing by 25 percent each year.

Several continuing obstacles have been laid out by OPM, including the nature of agency work, data security and information technology funding concerns, and management resistance. This resistance stems from worries over the accountability and productivity of teleworkers, the report said, but Scandling believes these concerns to be unfounded.

"Teleworkers are much more productive," Scandling said. "They have better attitudes, get more done and get to spend more time with their families because they don't have to spend an hour and a half driving to work every day."

In addition to being a convenience to employees, teleworking also allows agencies to function through occurrences that can disrupt business as usual, such as weather, traffic jams due to large public events, or evacuation of buildings for extended periods of time, such as with the Pentagon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, or the Senate and its staff during the anthrax and ricin incidents.

Widespread use of telecommuting would also make the government a better work environment for people with disabilities, proponents argue. For the second year in a row, health-related teleworking was the only area of the initiative that showed significant improvement. From 2002 to 2003, there was a more than 120 percent increase in the number of employees telecommuting for health-related reasons. The OPM report expressed the benefit as a reasonable accommodation for people with permanent disabilities or temporary health problems.

One major problem is the lack of communication between managers and employees regarding eligibility to telecommute. The OPM report stated that only 46 percent of agencies have a policy for formally notifying employees of their eligibility. This accounts partially for the disparity between those eligible, 751,844, and actual teleworkers, 102,921.

IT issues also plague the implementation. Managers are often reluctant to spend money on equipment or IT support that would not otherwise be necessary. Teleworking requires a significant budget boost to pay for centers or equipment for employees' homes. In some agencies, there also is concern about the security of transmitting information from telework locations back to the agency.

In order to address the lagging progress, the House Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing, tentatively scheduled for July 8, at Wolf's request. According to Scandling, the hearing will address the issues in the report and the fact that the numbers "aren't where they should be."

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 GovExec.com.
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.