ATF, unions agree on telework plan

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reached a final agreement on teleworking with the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) last week.

But they reached a deal only after a 12-hour conference with the Federal Service Impasses Panel, which resolves disputes between agencies and unions representing federal employees.

Under the new agreement, nearly 750 ATF employees — mostly investigators but also forensic auditors, information technology specialists, and supply systems and management program analysts — will be able to telework full-time.

“Our industry operations investigators perform approximately 70 percent of their work out of the office, and this will give them increased flexibility,” said ATF Deputy Director Edgar Domenech, in a press release. By coming to an agreement, the agency avoided having the impasses panel step in and mandate action.

ATF’s final proposal before the 12-hour conference would have given only nine employees the ability to telework for less than 50 percent of their work time. NTEU President Colleen Kelley called the proposal a disgrace, adding that “it is an insult to the hard-working ATF employees, many of whom travel over three hours to commute to and from work.”

Kelley said she approved of ATF’s new plan, calling it a giant step forward. ATF is in negotiations to determine the kind of telework infrastructure the agency will use.

Some of the evidence cited by NTEU during negotiations included examples of other telework programs at agencies such as the U.S. Patent and Trade Office and the Internal Revenue Service. Nearly 70 percent of USPTO trademark examiners work from home, and the agency plans to expand that to include patent examiners.

The IRS considered four telework systems before choosing AT&T’s Enterprise Remote Access Program, which allows secure, remote computer access to the agency’s network.

Federal managers are tight-lipped about the new agreement. A Senior Executives Association representative said no one in the organization would comment on the ruling.

Teleworking has become a hot issue in the past month as hurricane season and other crises loom. Nevertheless, agencies have been slow to adopt telework plans. An Office of Personnel Management survey showed that 18.6 percent of federal workers telecommuted in 2004.

In April, the General Services Administration issued its first formal guidelines on telework in an effort to quell confusion about its legality.

David Walker, comptroller general at the Government Accountability Office, testified about telework May 12 before the House Government Reform Committee during a hearing on dealing with a pandemic flu outbreak.

Walker said federal agencies need to put more planning and funding into their continuity-of-operation plans, of which telework is an integral part.

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