OPM suspends telework for some of its workers

It was temporarily stopped Oct. 29 during a transition to the agency's modernized retirement system, which will go live in February 2008

Telework-eligible employees who work in the Office of Personnel Management’s retirement claims operations temporarily stopped teleworking Oct. 29 during a transition to the agency’s modernized retirement system.

That system is scheduled to go live in February 2008.

OPM officials will require those teleworkers to undergo on-site retraining on the new system, and other employees will work on-site during the transition.

In suspending telework for employees who process retirement claims, OPM was also concerned about the security of personal information in its retirement operations, said Daniel Green, deputy associate director of OPM’s Center for Employee and Family Support Policy, in response to a question from Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), a strong proponent of federal telework programs.

“The issue there is retirement case files, which have a lot of personal information about people,”Green said. Those files “are taken home and worked on by people who are teleworking, so management wants to find alternative ways of protecting that information.”

That answer seemed to satisfy Davis, who said he was concerned when he heard rumors that OPM had suspended its telework program.

Green said the new system will ultimately be a huge help in protecting personal data because it will automate processes that are manual now. Once information security is established, those retirement claims workers can resume teleworking, he added.

“So at best, one can then say that there is a temporary suspension of some aspects of the program while it undergoes review to make adjustments that OPM feels are necessary?” Davis asked.

“Yes, exactly,” Green answered.

OPM is doing better than most federal agencies in implementing telework, Green said at a Nov. 6 hearing. He told lawmakers that 23 percent of all eligible employees at OPM teleworked in 2006, compared with a governmentwide average of slightly less than 9 percent.Moreover, the number of OPM employees who teleworked three or more days a week quadrupled in 2006.

Davis, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Federal Workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia Subcommittee, recently sponsored the Telework Improvement Act of 2007, requiring agencies to maximize telework opportunities for employees.  

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