FEMA and other agencies showcase successful mobility initiatives

Pro-telework conference details savings, flexibility as more agencies virtualize the workplace.

sandy over midatlantic

Hurricane Sandy bears down on the mid-Atlantic on Oct. 29th in this NASA satellite image. Responding in the aftermath of natural disasters is FEMA's primary mission.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency mission is to prepare and respond to the nation's disasters, and FEMA officials say the agency's mobility initiative ensures that they can execute that mission better, cheaper and more effectively.

Speaking at the Mobile Work Exchange Spring 2013 Town Hall Meeting on April 30, Tonya Schreiber, deputy chief administrative officer FEMA's Mission Support Bureau, explained how the agency has embraced mobility in recent years, leading to workplace transformation and real-world improvements in disaster preparedness and response.

"We have a mobility mission – FEMA is mobile and we have to be mobile," Schreiber said. "Our stakeholders, federal partners and disaster survivors demand the ability for us to effectively deliver. FEMA goes big, and we go fast. We need to get in there, take charge, and leverage state and local partners, and we've got to be mobile across agencies."

Schreiber said the best place to start the mobility mission and upgrade capabilities was within the agency's employee base.

FEMA employs 5,500 full-time employees, but until recently, only about 5 percent of the staff teleworked on a regular basis. This year represented a marked change for the agency, with 3,300 of its full-time employees pledging between one and three days of telework time during Mobile Work Exchange's Telework Week during the first week of March.

Schreiber said the agency logged 46,000 telework hours during Telework Week, realizing cost savings and testing the remote capabilities of its employee. Schreiber said the estimated transit savings alone translate to about $2 million annually if 20 percent of its staff teleworks regularly.

"If we have more teleworkers, we have more savings," Schreiber said.

FEMA's telework efforts go hand in hand with its plan to modernize infrastructure and consolidate its capital region offices from eight buildings to three, reducing office space by approximately 182,000 square feet by 2016. The big consolidation translates to about $9.1 million in annual leasing costs. The building reduction also cuts on utility costs, Schreiber said, knocking off another $530,000 per year.

FEMA was one of several agencies to garner positive recognition for its mobile efforts at the Mobile Work Exchange Spring 2013 Town Hall Meeting, and many received awards from the Mobile Work Exchange for their efforts. The Government Accountability Office was lauded for implementing a telework program that resulted in $1.2 million in savings and a reduced physical footprint.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services went from minimal teleworking – one telework day per pay period – to allowing almost its entire staff to telework up to three days per week. The agency also offers more flexible time to employees around the holidays, according to one of its officials.

The Interior Department's Office of Inspector General was recognized for its leap forward in telework and mobility. In just three years, the agency went from having an inconsistent telework program to a robust program that 98 percent of its employees are able to put to use. Overall, its workforce increased the number of collective telework hours by 500 percent over that time.

In addition, the Homeland Security Department received kudos for its telework and mobility program's return on investment, the Defense Logistics Agency for its growth in mobile IT and the Merit Systems Protection Board was recognized for enabling a secure workforce. MSPB is the first agency to employ a reimbursement policy for mobile devices and laptops.

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