GAO to agencies: Measure telework's effectiveness

Telework Enhancement Act of 2007 (.pdf)

The Government Accountability Office is again pressing federal agencies to focus on results and clarify rules when working to expand their telework programs.

“Agencies need to have meaningful measures of what they are trying to achieve through telework, and they need to be using this information to achieve their results,” Bernice Steinhardt, GAO’s director of strategic issues, told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee’s Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee at a June 12 hearing on the federal telework program.

“You should be managing for results,” Steinhardt said.

Congressional legislation in 2000 mandated that each executive-branch federal agency establish a telework policy designed so that the greatest number of employees could participate without reducing performance. The law also charged the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration with providing resources to agencies and encouraging telework programs.

In 2003, GAO issued a report suggesting agencies track measurable goals and create a business case for their telework programs. But its research shows that those guidelines have been among the least-followed as agencies move forward with their programs, GAO said. For example, GAO found two years later that agencies’ measurements and eligibility requirements for participating in the telework programs were inconsistent with one another.

This lackluster participation spurred the proposal of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2007, which was introduced in the Senate in March. The bill’s proponents say it would make telework easier for federal employees.

“I don’t sense that, overall, agencies have concentrated on the concept of telework,” Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), one of the bill’s sponsors, said at the June 12 hearing.

The bill would make all federal employees eligible for telework unless they specifically cannot telework for security or other reasons.

It also calls for a new telework managing officer at each agency and productivity awards for teleworkers.

According to the 2007 CDW-Government Telework Report, government employees are doing better with telework than those in the private sector. The report found that 44 percent of federal employees have the option to telework, but only 15 percent of private-sector employees do. Of the federal workers surveyed, 79 percent said they would telework if they could, although only 63 percent of private-sector workers would.

One of the big advantages the government says the telework program offers is continuity of operations, according to the report. Seventy-five percent of federal employees said they could continue working if their office were closed because of a disaster or storm, and only 33 percent in the private sector thought they could.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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