Results-based focus key to telework, says GAO specialist

Agencies must do a better job of aligning telework programs to goals if telework is to expand significantly in the federal government, a senior analyst at the Government Accountability Office told Congress Tuesday.

Bernice Steinhardt, director of strategic issues at GAO, said at a hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce that Congress will continue to be frustrated in its efforts to make telework a more widely used tool unless agencies bring a more results-oriented focus to their programs.

“Everyone is looking to telework to yield a whole variety benefits — to recruit and retain a skilled workforce, ease traffic congestion and improve the quality of life and [implement] continuity of operations. But all these aspirations have never been translated into program goals,” she said.

“No one [is] managing to them, no one is setting targets for them, and there’s not a lot of information that’s being collected to help evaluate telework programs,” Steinhardt added.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), chairman of the subcommittee, said that when the full committee asked 25 departments and agencies last May for data on their telework programs, they found that many agencies don’t effectively measure and track teleworkers.

“Some agencies do not even know how many of their employees are actually teleworking,” Davis said.

Davis said agencies continue to underutilize telework, citing Office of Personnel Management statistics showing that only 6.6 percent of federal employees participated in telework programs in 2005.

In fact, there was a slight decrease in the number of federal teleworkers between 2005 and 2006, from 119,248 to 111,549, said Daniel Green, deputy associate director of the Center for Employee and Family Support Policy at OPM, who testified at the hearing. The decline was largely because of lower numbers at several large agencies, he said.

To push agencies on teleworking, Davis plans to introduce the Telework Improvement Act of 2007, which would require them to establish policies that maximize opportunities for employees to telework and ensure that they are incorporating telework into their continuity-of-operations planning.

Davis told Federal Computer Week that he expects to introduce the bill this week. Co-sponsors of the legislation are Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the full committee, and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who recently proposed the creation of a National Telework Week.

“The federal government is in a strong position to really model [telework] in innovative ways,” Sarbanes said.


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