Telework speeds security-clearance process

Success stories should overcome managers' reservations, OPM hopes

Although more than 100,000 federal employees teleworked in 2008,  the greatest barrier to telework's adoption is resistance from managers, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said at a telework conference today.

“We need to break the management mindset that a telework day is a day off,” Berry said. “That is our biggest stumbling block. We won’t achieve the cultural shift without getting over that speed bump.”

“A telework day is a work day,” Berry said. “We expect and demand productivity.”

Teleworkers are often very successful, Berry said. It was thanks to thousands of investigators working in home offices that OPM has reduced the average time needed for a security clearance investigation from a year in 2001 to 37 days now, he said.

Although those jobs technically are not considered telework because they are full-time home positions named "telejobs,” they conform to the highest principles of telework, Berry said at the Telework Exchange Town Hall meeting in Washington.

“We had a backlog of a half a million cases. Now, there is no backlog,” Berry said. “I am proud of our 5,000 investigative services employees who work at home — that is the pure definition of taking telework to the next level.”

Berry and Aneesh Chopra, the federal chief technology officer, spoke before federal managers, employees, vendors and other interested persons.

Workers with access to a computer, broadband services, conference calls, e-mail and other services at home can participate fully in performing their work duties, he said.“I am more connected to a teleworked employee on e-mail than I am to someone who is in the building who has stepped away from his or her desk.”

Chopra encouraged telework advocates to develop business plans that show a positive return on investment from telework, including lower commuting costs, lower energy costs, less employee personal leave time, and lower costs for in-office technology.

Berry gave several examples of federal agencies successfully implementing telework in their offices: The U.S. Ptent & Trademark Office has increased productivity, work satisfaction and retention rates and reduced real estate costs; The National Transportation Safety Board implemented telework policies starting with a pilot project in 2007 and has experienced less leave time, fewer sick days and greater retention; At the Federal Insurance Deposit Corp., 90 percent of the managers gave favorable reviews to teleworking.

Chopra noted that the Veterans Affairs Department used a collaborative online platform to involve 12,000 benefits administration workers in regional offices to work together developing solutions to reduce application backlogs and processing times. “That is teleworking at its finest,” he said. “They came together; geography does not matter.”

Chopra encouraged telework managers to link their goals with the President’s Innovation Agenda, which includes the National Broadband Plan, reduced energy consumption and greater emphasis on entrepreneurship, small businesses, education and research and development. For example, teleworking employees can help develop cybersecurity solutions or distance learning programs, he said.

Although cybersecurity concerns can undermine the ability of federal employees to work at home, Chopra urged federal managers to seek answers and continue to move forward on telework rather than stay stuck. “Let’s find solutions,” he said. “Let’s bring in the private sector’s best practices. There is a wide range of information technology to be deployed to move the ball forward.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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