COOP policies lack leadership

Policy-makers push telework to the center of business continuity planning

Agencies continue to struggle with implementing policies for telework and continuity of operations, in some cases hindered by resistance from leaders. As a new hurricane season opens, gas prices rise and the risk of a terrorist attack remains, telework and COOP continue to be important concerns.

But the policies can’t make a difference if agency leaders don’t get behind them, said Wendell Joice, governmentwide telework team leader at the General Services Administration. Joice and other officials spoke last week at a telework event sponsored by the market research firm Input, information security company RSA Security and Wi-Fi network company iPass.

“Managers love to hate these programs,” Joice said. GSA shares responsibility with the Office of Personnel Management for implementing telework plans.

Telework is a component of various COOP plans because it provides policies and practices for employees to work from home or another remote site when offices are inaccessible because of natural or man-made disasters. But some managers regard telework as an unwelcome policy. It conjures images of employees working naked at home, said Kenneth Bob, vice president for strategic alliances at iPass.

The federal government must rise to the challenge of providing effective telework and COOP implementations, Bob said.

Fewer than half of all federal agencies train their managers in supervising teleworkers, said Robert Zitz, special assistant to the undersecretary of preparedness at the Homeland Security Department. “That’s got to change,” he said.

Security concerns prevent many organizations from implementing telework. Art Coviello, president and chief executive officer of RSA Security, said technologies exist that address those fears — notably strong authentication, encrypted connections and role-based access.

Some telework proponents lament the ineffectiveness of current mandates. It’s hard to push agencies to adopt telework without a clear federal policy, said J.T. Griffin, legislative aide to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who is an outspoken telework proponent. Wolf wants to begin enforcing a 2000 law that imposes fines of as much as $5 million on agencies for not implementing telework policies, Griffin said.

He said Wolf also wants the federal government to adopt telework as readily as the private sector has.

Jack Penkoske, director of manpower, personnel and security at the Defense Information Systems Agency, said telework is starting to flourish at DISA, whose employees can telecommute two days a week. Some groups within the agency are testing 100 percent telework programs, he said. Since December 2005, DISA has quadrupled the number of employees who regularly telework.

People in charge of telework for their organizations should have colleagues in their chief information officer’s office because that can take months off the time it takes to implement a telework plan, Penkoske added.

Telework essential for COOP
Telework is essential to ensuring secure COOP, Coviello said.

Telework and COOP plans are similar endeavors because both need executives to lead efforts to implement them, Joice said.

“We’re constantly hampered by having to beg and plead,” he said. A big challenge to enacting COOP plans through telework is justifying the cost to management, he added. Leaders of COOP efforts ask organizations to devote resources to events that may not happen, which is always a hard sell.

Training is an often-overlooked ingredient of implementing telework policies. Workers must receive adequate training so they can telework when called upon in an emergency, Joice said. Organizations should practice telework and COOP procedures and conduct periodic large-scale “fire drills,” he said. And instead of developing and implementing emergency work applications, organizations should use flexible work applications that can handle emergencies.

AT&T prepares COOP helpAT&T is conducting exercises in network continuity, practicing for situations when the company may have to reroute communications temporarily if a disaster knocks out phone lines and cellular phone towers.

Robin Bienfait, vice president of network operations at AT&T, said that when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005, it provided a lesson to everyone in communications — even if they weren’t directly affected. Since then, the company has been trying to improve relations with federal, state and local government officials.

Knowing where the network infrastructure is and ensuring that local officials know what resources the company can bring to bear are important concerns for telecommunications officials, Bienfait said.

“What we’d like to do is have that communication before the event,” she said. “They’ll understand what I have in my arsenal, what I’m capable of.”

AT&T has had productive talks with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she said, but state and local governments present a patchwork of organizations, some more effective than others.

Bienfait said AT&T draws employees from areas outside the affected region when disaster strikes, rather than having specific teams of dedicated employees.

— Michael Hardy

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