GSA finds most agencies’ telework plans are ad hoc

Project management office for coordinating telework could help ensure telework success, GSA/ Booz Allen Hamilton study finds.

Investing in the necessary infrastructure to support home-based telework on a large scale can more than offset the costs, according to a new study by the General Services Administration and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

The “Telework Technology Costs Study” states that an agency with 50,000 employees that invests $15.6 million in a telecommunications infrastructure suited for telework could save $31.1 million on rent and other facilities costs in three years.

Those projected savings are based on the assumption that the agency would allow half of its employees to telework. “It’s not costing as much as everyone thinks,” said Theresa Noll, senior telework program analyst at GSA. But the study found that costs per employee could be less if agencies approached telework more strategically.

As it is, Noll said, agencies’ spending on telework tends to be ad hoc. “Departments are not making telework part of the strategic vision for their organizations,” she said. Noll presented results of the study June 15 at a public meeting sponsored by the Telework Exchange, a public/private partnership that promotes federal telework programs.

Creating a suitable governance structure, such as a program management office, to coordinate telework could help ensure its success, the study states. The study was based on interviews with federal chief information officers and information technology employees, focus groups with telework program coordinators, and surveys of teleworkers and managers of teleworkers.

Despite congressional mandates requiring telework programs, agencies have been slow to implement them, largely because managers like to see their employees at the office during the day and often are reluctant to encourage telework, said Raymond Kent, an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton.

The study found most home-based teleworkers lack access to all the databases, hardware and services that they would have if they worked in a federal office building. Many employees must use their own computers and pay for their Internet connections, which creates risks because home PCs usually do not conform to agency security standards.

The GSA/Booz Allen study states that the average cost of supporting a home-based teleworker is $1,920 a year. Laptop PCs account for the largest portion of IT costs associated with home-based teleworkers. Other telework infrastructure costs, such as Web-based applications, handheld devices and remote e-mail access, enhance telework, but they account for a relatively smaller portion of the support costs, according to the study.

The study concludes that a telework program could cost agencies as little as $512 per teleworker if it takes advantage of the economies of scale that are possible through centralized planning and purchasing.

Noll said many agencies do not include telework in their technical support and IT strategic plans. But, she added, “I’d like to see telework as an item in the IT capital planning process.”

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