Computer security not a telework hindrance, says advocacy group

The security of the government's computer systems is not an impediment to expanding agencies' use of telework, says a report from a cybersecurity public policy advocacy group.

The 12-page report urges agencies to allow employees to work from home using high-speed Internet connections and telephone lines.

Fifteen years of pilot programs, legislative mandates, threats to cut funding and presidential directives have made little difference in the number of employees who are able to work away from the office, according to the report from the Arlington, Va.-based Cyber Security Industry Alliance.

"Overall federal efforts are puny compared to the wide adoption of telework by the private sector," the report says. "Adoption of telework in the federal government began in 1990 and is on the upswing, but the level seriously lags private industry."

According to a survey by the Dieringer Research Group of Milwaukee, Wis., 44.4 million Americans worked from home in 2004, up from 41.3 million in 2003, a 7.5 percent increase. About 14 percent of federal workers worked away from their main offices in 2002 and 2003, according to numbers from a May 2004 Government Accountability Office report.

Despite extensive Internet-based attacks on government computer systems, the report states that human error, not technological lapses, has been the cause of most major incidents of compromised computer information. Establishing solid network and physical security systems remains critical, and guidelines established by the National Institute of Standards and Technologies provide broad direction for securing computer systems used by teleworkers.

"It is a fairly common misconception that cybersecurity concerns are holding back telework in the federal government," said CSIA executive director Paul Kurtz.

The barriers agencies face in expanding telework include a lack of financial incentives because agencies do not get to keep money saved through reduced overhead costs, and the preference of managers to have their employees in the same physical location.

CISA urged the Office of Management and Budget to include telework in its President's Management Agenda for e-government and for OMB to ensure that agencies comply with the Office of Personnel Management's emergency planning guidelines, which lists telework as an important contingency planning tool.

The report states that calls by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., for agencies to meet minimum standards for telework went unheeded and requests for the results of a measure mandating that agencies create telework programs or lose $5 million in funding went unanswered.

Later this year, CISA will hold a town hall-style meeting in the Washington area promoting telework.

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