Telework gets a ‘giddyap’ from OPM

Democrats, Republicans and federal employee unions might not agree on much, but there is at least one bit of common ground: Telework is good, especially in metropolitan Washington, D.C.

Highlights from the Office of Personnel Management’s plan

  • Convene an advisory group of telework program managers to help create standards for telework policies.
  • Have OPM review agencies’ telework policies and help them meet standards.
  • Encourage agencies to create a telework managing officer position to oversee the application of telework policy.
  • Encourage agencies to develop a transparent process through which employees can appeal denied telework requests.
  • Ensure adequate training for employees and managers.

At a press conference last week, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said he plans to have an advisory group of telework program managers craft a set of standard policies for departments. Ultimately, he wants agencies to see telework as a necessity, not a luxury. 

Berry’s plan would have OPM review agencies’ telework policies and ensure employees and managers know about telework. He wants to encourage agencies to have a telework officer manager and make sure employees can appeal their denied telework requests.

“I’m here to put some giddyap into telework,” Berry said.

In 2008, nearly 103,000 federal employees at 78 agencies teleworked at least part of the time. That is about 5.3 percent of the workforce. In 2007, there were 94,643 teleworkers, according to data that OPM gathered from agencies.

Unions support the telework plans, in part because telework allows employees to continue doing their jobs even when emergency circumstances prevent them from going to offices. Although the swine flu is not severe right now, it serves as a reminder that dangers exist, said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

“The outbreak offers another vivid example of the importance of programs of this kind,” she said. 

In case of emergency, 44 agencies — or 56 percent of agencies — have fully integrated telework into continuity-of-operations plans, OPM said.

With President Barack Obama and the Cabinet secretaries wanting more federal employees teleworking, Berry said he didn’t think compliance with the new plan would be a problem.

Yet, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who introduced a telework bill, said he still wants the bill passed “so that going forward the less enlightened have something that they need to adhere to.”

Telework is environmentally friendly, saves a lot of energy and makes life a little better, said Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.). He once met a French engineer delivering his work to Paris via the Internet from a boat off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. “That’s the kind of job I’m looking for,” he said.

Traffic congestion can frustrate employees and sap their energy before they get to work in the morning, longtime residents of Washington, D.C., say.

“In a region as congested as ours, not to have the federal government leading teleworking is almost criminal,” Rep. Gerald Connolly, (D-Va.), said at a hearing last week. “Yet, consistently it’s been the government that has been a laggard.”

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Tue, Sep 22, 2009 EDP Chicago

My Agency devises more convoluted ways discourage Telework. FDCC being the biggest. They lock out everything to the point of being counter productive. We play the Mother-May-I game to get access. Followed by no VISTA VPN support (budget reasons). In one case they let a contractor work in another state but I couldn't work from Home.

Tue, Sep 22, 2009 RayW

The article is biased towards those who mostly push electronic paper, not those who work with equipment and use the computer as a tool and not just a data storage, retrieval, and manipulation device. In my case there is almost no way I could telecommute on a regular basis, I require equipment use that is not available via the net and work with sensitive information that should not be tossed out on the net. Although, since I no longer have a PC but a locked down Vista terminal, I could get more research work done at home since I have access to programs that make work easier and banned sites that contain information I need. And, what about those who work with my personal data? I do not want that on the Internet coming from someone's house. Telecommuting has good and bad points. As some folks I know found out in days gone by, the bad is that you have less face-time with the layoff and promotion decision makers. And face it, some folks have the discipline to work at home, others are better off away from domestic distractions.

Sun, May 17, 2009 Donna Fitch Colorado Springs, CO

As a former government employee and semi-disabled (need oxygen on and off during day) I have applied for part-time opportunities with DOD thinking I could go in a few days a week or actually work at home a few days a week via computer doing transcription work or contract administration. A lot of us workers would really like to see the government outsource telework program become a true asset for the government and ourselves. There is very little on the site and it says you must request it from your supervisor. This is difficult if you have not been hired or rehired. Thank you.

Tue, May 5, 2009

When I moved to a new department in Navy, the new boss denied my
previous teleworking schedule simply because they had previous problems
with OTHER employees. This is a ridiculous failure of leadership and
senior management, but what can an individual do about it? Nothing, if
you want to keep any sort of positive working relationships. At the same
time, the building has run out of space to put incoming employees, but
these old fogies won't see the solution right in front of their glasses.
Lame, and totally unsustainable. Oh yeah, did I mention that personal
cell phones are also prohibited? Real nice, heh?

Sun, May 3, 2009 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

This policy is very good news, and should be rolled up into a comprehensive human capital strategy in all federal agencies. This should be part of any retention initiatives that are being built upon when discussing acquisition workforce reform. Telework can be very productive, if employed like any other productivity tool; establish metrics, measure work to those metrics, and correct if needed. Telework is part of most commercial business practices when dealing with employees. There is no reason why the federal government can not follow the same policies, especially where traffic is epic like in Washington, DC.

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