GAO finds that progress has been made, but not enough to satisfy lawmakers.
House Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) revisited the issue of emergency preparedness and telework for federal employees last month at a hearing on the government's progress on continuity of operations (COOP) planning.
A year ago, the Government Accountability Office reported significant inadequacies in federal planning to ensure continued delivery of services in a crisis. The GAO report cited a lack of federal guidance for agencies. Davis asked GAO to continue monitoring agency COOP planning and to report to the committee annually.
The government needs to be able to provide essential services in a crisis for the safety of its federal workers. In his statement, Davis said, "More important than anything that goes on up here is the hard work that federal employees do every day to keep the wheels of government turning. Members of Congress don't guard our borders, deliver the mail or keep the government's payroll books in order. It is federal employees who do these things and more. ... Federal governmental agencies need to be prepared with a plan to continue doing the most important tasks to serve the American people under any circumstances."
GAO reported at the hearing that a majority of COOP plans do not fully identify mission-critical systems and data, or fully establish the resource requirements to maintain essential services during a crisis.
Davis said telework is an important component of continuity planning. By allowing employees to work from home or remote locations, government agencies can operate flexibly, and a dispersed workforce can maintain operations during an emergency.
"It is imperative that we incorporate telework into our government's continuity planning," Davis said.
"Telework is not just common-sense efficiency but an important national security consideration as well," he said. "The decentralization of federal agency functions inherent in a healthy telework strategy can greatly increase the survivability of those agencies in the event of a terrorist attack or other disruptive crisis."
Last July, the committee held a hearing on telework after a federal mandate was not met. Because federal managers have been slow to allow telework, lawmakers added a provision to the fiscal 2005 spending bill to withhold $5 million from the budgets of agencies that continue to balk at telework. That action is still threatened at several agencies if progress does not occur this year.
At last month's hearing, Marta Brito Perez, the Office of Personnel Management's associate director for human capital leadership, reported preliminary results from a 2005 emergency preparedness survey that will be released soon. She noted improvement in most areas but did not mention the use of telework.
James Kane, president of the Systems and Software Consortium, cited the importance of collaboration. "It is the behavior of people, more than the performance of technology, that enables telework-based support to execute the agency mission," he said. Kane called for managers and employees to work on pilot projects to test the latest telework technology.
We will see what the year brings.
Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEXT STORY: E-records R&D gets grants