Arbitrator orders ATF to let examiners telework

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives must allow a group of specialist employees to telework on a pilot basis as a result of a Dec. 13 decision by the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP).

After the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) won an agreement from ATF in May 2006 on a telework program, ATF refused to permit its legal-instrument examiners to telework, citing security concerns. Legal-instrument examiners review legal documents, such as tort claims, appeals and other court documents, to determine compliance with applicable laws, regulations and policies.

ATF officials argued that letting the examiners remove sensitive documents from agency offices to work remotely would pose risks to national security and the general public.

However, Grace Flores-Hughes, the arbitrator for FSIP, noted in her ruling that another group of ATF workers, the industry operations investigators, had been teleworking for more than a year and were allowed to take the same materials from agency offices that are handled by the legal-instruments examiners.

“Hundreds of [industry operations investigators] have been transporting similar sensitive materials on a daily basis from their homes to the sites of firearms and explosives dealers since the May 2006 telework agreement went into effect without any reported incidents of theft or loss,” Flores-Hughes said.

As a result, the arbitrator accepted NTEU’s proposal that legal-instrument examiners be permitted to telework under a six-month pilot program, after which ATF could reopen negotiations. Under the union’s plan, legal-instrument examiners will telework on a part-time schedule, defined as one or more days per week or several days per month.

Once the pilot establishes telework as a viable option for these employees, the union will propose that they be placed under the master telework agreement on a permanent basis, said NTEU President Colleen Kelley.

“Now that this case has been decided favorably, I am hopeful that ATF will work with NTEU on strategies to make telework succeed for all employees rather than focusing on ways to prevent employees from being part of the program,” she said.

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