OPM prods agencies to speed telework

The Obama administration today advised agencies to increase federal telework by standardizing their telework policies, having telework managing officers and creating appeals processes for employees whose requests to telecommute are denied.

John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), today announced his governmentwide plan to increase the number of federal employees who telecommute. Berry said the plan was based on legislation that had been proposed to enhance federal telework.

Telework advocates say increasing the number of federal employees that regularly telecommute will reduce pollution, traffic congestion, improve employees’ quality of life and improve the government’s ability to operate in a crisis. Berry said concerns over the spread of swine flu emphasize the importance of telework.

“We hope and we pray that this does not become a full pandemic,” Berry said at a news conference. “But if it does, this is one of those things — telework could be one of the most important options that the federal government will have to maintain continuity of operations in the event of a crisis.”

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

Berry said the advisory group would help develop metrics to measure the program’s success and determine the specific goals for participation in the program. Berry said the plan would move telework from the “nice to have” to the “must have” category.

He also said President Barack Obama and the cabinet secretaries were behind increasing the number of federal employees who telework, and he didn’t think compliance with the new plan would be a problem. Berry said he didn’t expect that the administration would have to make elements of the plan mandatory, and he expected agencies to “step up,” adding “if they don’t, we’ll deal with it.”

“This is something the president cares about,” Berry said. “This is something that affects continuity of operations for our government and I don’t think we’re going to have an issue of noncompliance.”

Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.), who have supported legislation to increase federal telework, supported the plan during the news conference.

Sarbanes, who introduced legislation in March to increase federal teleworking, said he was happy that the administration’s plan included the key elements of that bill.

“I’m excited at the prospect of this becoming a new culture within the federal workforce,” Sarbanes said.

However, Sarbanes added, “We’ll probably press forward to get the legislation in place just to codify these standards so that going forward the less enlightened have something that they need to adhere to.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Wed, Jul 29, 2009 Jake Dayton, Ohio

When will federal manager recognize teleworking as the valuable tool it could be in helping a valuable employee maintain their productivity while dealing with serious health issues within their family? My agency does not see telework as a solution for employees who have work-home-life issues. The policy is very rigid against allowing employees to telework to ease the burden of child or elder-care responsibilities. In fact the policy insists teleworkers perform their work during core hours (9-3). Unfortunately, these are the most likely hours that their spouse, child or parent (or even the employees themselves) might need transportation and support to and from medical treatment facilities where they may be undergoing chemotherapy, dialysis, radiation treatment, physical rehabilitation therapy, etc. We currently have a woman in our office who has exhausted her leave balance taking her mother to chemo treatments during core hours, but she was told that was not a valid reason to request to work from home. This woman has always been a stellar employee, but she is being forced to choose between her mother and her job, and she will probably choose early retirement in order to care for her mother. The government says employees are our most valued resource, but they do not walk the talk. This is not the way to attract or retain valued employees.

Fri, May 29, 2009

I just started teleworking in the federal government, and it has made an unexpectedly huge improvement in both my work and home life. It is much quieter in my home than it is in my office; my focus is much better and I'm getting things done quicker thanks to that. My commute, depending on the time of year, was from 2 to 4 hours driving per day; 30 miles one-way. Now, even if I end up putting in more time (voluntary, not compensated) at work because I prefer to finish what I'm doing, I think "well, it's still less time than if I were driving home!"... I'm still "home" earlier! I have gained 6 to 8 hours back to dedicate to my family. My kids don't have to spend so much time in childcare before and after school, and that costs less, too. I feel like I have a life again! The only downside has been the guilt; I'm on a different team than my friends and office-mates. They have jobs they could do from home some of the time, too, but their team leaders don't support telework as mine does. I really hope that the federal government pushes management to expand teleworking to anyone who has work that can be done as well off-site from home as it can in the office, and wants to telework. I am so thankful and grateful for my team leader and managers willingness to support telework. This has really breathed life back into my career, my home, and my attitude. It is win-win and more should be able to do this.

Mon, May 11, 2009 Atlanta, GA

It seems that the older baby boomer aged managers cannot handle letting go and trusting their employees who by the way haven't given a reason to not be trusted. This is one of the many reasons why young and innovative talent is not interested in working for the Federal government. As a young liberal person who does work for the government...I'm beginning to wonder why. Work-life balance is important to young professional working people who tend to have young families, so this telework thing could give the government to appeal it needs to attract and keep young blood.

Thu, Apr 30, 2009 Anon

I still want to keep an eye on my management and make sure that they are hard at work.

Thu, Apr 30, 2009 Texas

Telework is great if we can get over management's need to nanomanage things and to just trust the employees. It reduces pollution, gas use, wear and tear on vehicles, it's a win.

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