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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