OPM draws boundaries for use of office technology

fmicciche@govexec.com

Agencies can now look to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Web site for guidance in drawing boundaries for one of the more common dilemmas of the information age workplace.

With personal computers adorning nearly every desk in the federal realm, the question of how and when employees may use the machines for private purposes, and to what degree this use may be monitored, looms large.

Modeled on guidelines approved by the governmentwide Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council in May of 1999, OPM's Policy on Personal Use of Government Office Equipment clearly stakes out the rights and responsibilities of federal workers availing themselves of everything from copying machines to e-mail.

Two major principles make up the policies put forth by both the CIO Council and OPM. The first is that personal use can only cause a minimal additional expense to the government. That means employees can use a limited amount of supplies, such as electricity, ink, toner or paper, already provided by an agency in the course of normal operations.

The other principle confines use unrelated to agency business to non-work time." This allows an employee to use government equipment for personal use at lunch, before and after the workday, and on weekends or holidays, provided the equipment would normally be available to the employee at those times.

"This has become the defacto standard for limited personal use, both in the government and in the private sector," said John Ray of the General Service Administration's Office of Information Technology.

In the area of electronic mail, and Internet use in general, the guidelines are partciularly unambiguous.

"You do not have the right to privacy while using any Government office equipment, including Internet or email services," reads the policy. "Furthermore, your use of Government office equipment, for whatever purpose, is not secure, private or anonymous."

While reserving the right to monitor business phone calls in attempting to improve service and training, OPM makes clear that personal calls will not be monitored unless the employee union has been notified in advance.

OPM has posted their policy, adopted earlier this summer, to allow agencies crafting a similar policy to borrow as much, or as little, as they wish. The site explicitly states that no uniform standards for such a policy exist. Officials were unable to say how many federal agencies currently have IT personal use policies in place.

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