Feds face reality with new rule

The government's efforts to enhance its image as an employer of choice is getting a boost from the General Services Administration.

A draft policy being developed by GSA would allow federal employees to use fax machines, telephones and computers for personal use if doing so results in minimal expense and does not interfere with government business. The proposed policy is a refreshing change for the federal government, where below-market wages and outdated personnel rules have seriously hampered its ability to attract top-notch talent or retain longtime employees wooed by industry.

First, the draft policy makes good business sense. As the Social Security Administration learned, its policy to restrict SSA employees' personal phone use to medical emergencies actually cost the agency money in lost productivity as employees trudged down the hall or to another floor to use a pay phone to make a one-minute personal call. Second, the policy is based on good management and common sense. Instead of learning the multitude of different personal-use policies that every agency has created, federal employees would just have to know one when moving from agency to agency.

Like every policy, this one is fraught with the potential for abuse. But inherent in the draft policy is the understanding that federal employees are adults and know where to draw the line. Common sense dictates that the rules change to accommodate the realities of the two-income family that must, on occasion, use a telephone to check in at home. Simple fairness dictates that all federal employees play by the same rules.

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