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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