GAO: Agencies need better telework plans

"Continuity of Operations: Agencies Could Improve Planning for Telework During Disruptions"

The Government Accountability Office issued a report today recommending that federal agencies put more planning and funding into continuity of operation (COOP) plans, particularly for teleworking. GAO laid much of the blame for agencies' lack of telework planning on the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“FEMA has not provided specific guidance on preparations needed to use telework during emergencies,” said GAO Comptroller General David Walker, in testimony today before the House Government Reform Committee.

GAO surveyed 23 agencies and found that nine of them had plans for shifting important employees into telework. But only one of those nine had documented communications with their emergency response employees about telework. Walker said that without required preparations for telework, agencies would not be taking all the steps to ensure that they functioned during extended emergencies.

GAO recommended that FEMA become more proactive in COOP by creating guidance on preparations needed for telework during a major disruption of government work. Agency preparations would be developed in conjunction with the Office of Personnel Management.

GAO issued a similar report a year ago that compared 34 agency COOP plans with FEMA guidelines. It found deficiencies and a need for more oversight and better definitions of the essential functions required for agencies to continue operating.

FEMA has since released better guidelines for alternative facilities for emergency workers, but it has not done the same for telework.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) held the hearing to address how telework could help agencies continue functioning during a pandemic. Bush administration officials released a pandemic implementation plan May 3 that called for OPM to revise existing telework guidance to support the administration's National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.

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