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.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

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

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

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

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

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