CIO Council crafts personal-use IT guidelines

The CIO Council this month approved a model policy that allows federal employees limited personal use of government office resources such as phones, the Internet and fax machines.

The policy allows federal employees "limited use of government office equipment for personal needs if the use does not interfere with official business and involves minimal additional expense to the government." An employee should use government equipment for personal use "during the employee's non-work time," the policy states.

The CIO Council's approval of the policy is still pending the notification of several congressmen who have voiced concerns about personal use of government-owned IT in the past. In 1997 former Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), for example, proposed legislation to remove games from computers used by federal employees.

"Normally, the actions of the CIO Council are their own...but on this particular one we wanted to make sure there was no backlash and everyone was aware before moving on," said Keith Thurston, the member of the CIO Council's Interoperability Committee who coordinated the effort.

The policy's wording has been fine-tuned considerably from the original draft brought to the CIO Council's Interoperability Committee in January. The draft was composed by a team representing more than 23 agencies and headed by the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy. [FCW, Feb. 8, 1999].

The limited personal-use policy review team, which started at GSA and worked with Thurston, independently obtained input from the human resources, legal and ethical communities to ensure that everyone could agree on the wording in the document. The method served a definite purpose because the difference between one word and another could affect how agencies interpreted the policy, Thurston said.

"They appear minor in the fine-tuning, but they become substantial in impact when it comes to dealing with labor relations," Thurston said.

The document stresses that the personal- use policy is not one that all agencies must conform to. Instead, it is a recommended policy, or model, for agencies "to consider when developing a personal-use policy," Thurston said.

"We did that intentionally so that employee groups within an agency did not have [personal use] to demand as a right," Thurston said. "Some agencies have very good reasons to have a policy that doesn't conform with this...so it's not a regulation, it's just advisory."

But the need for the advisory was clear when many agencies asked the council for a model policy to rely on after trying to develop policies on their own and running up against the same legal and ethical issues the committee discovered, Thurston said.

*****

AT A GLANCE

CIO Council's office equipment personal-use policy:

* Limited use of government office equipment for personal needs allowed if such use does not interfere with official business and involves only minimal increase to government expenses

* Personal use allowed only during an employee's nonwork time

* Personal-use privileges may be revoked or limited by appropriate officials

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