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.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Tue, Sep 29, 2009

37 Days to get a security clearance?! How did you compute this number? I still and have been waiting for my security clearance from the government for (4) four months. I just finished a very thorough background investigation with an unrelated law enforcement agency. It took them (2.5) two and a half months to know everything about me and every person I associate with (family, friends, ...etc.). I met with my government investigator for (45) forty five minutes and she was very unprofessional and was not prepared to go through my paperwork.

Tue, Sep 29, 2009 jimbob Virginia

We've been hearing good news stories for years but the fact is the USG clearance program is a huge scandal and money drain. Some agencies, DHS, won't recognize a security clearance/background investigation for a public trust determination. King Obama needs another czar- this one over clearances and suitability.

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 Karen Putnam San Diego

I agree with Mr.Berry and the reader's post. I spend several hours a week in meetings at my workplace and perhaps up to 10 minutes per meeting waitng for tardy attendees or catching up the latecomers with pertinent business which is not productive or efficient. Submitting text may give voice to meeting attendees that may not be heard and overshadowed by the familiar personalities.

Fri, Sep 25, 2009

Huge concerns on whether the data being sent to home computers is plain text, or digitally signed and encrypted. Are the home computers updated regularly with anti virus software definitions? and scanned? Plain text is easily retrieved with keyboard loggers which could lead to loss of personally identifiable information. Who needs a usb thumb drive when the data can just be sent home?

Fri, Sep 25, 2009

Mr Berry has it correct. I am much more accountble when teleworking then in office. When in office and I'm in a meeting then I'm sitting in a conference room for x period of time. If I'm in same meeting on a confernece call while teleworking I can continue to work and listen and provide necessary input. Also if in Office and i step away from desk who know where I'm at but if I'm telworking I am a phone call or email away.

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