Agency managers make telework pitch

There are still untapped savings and productivity gains to be had for the government through increased use of telework, argued federal IT leaders speaking at the Mobile Work Exchange Town Hall Meeting.

Rick Holgate

Telework could unleash a currently untapped 'incredible amount' of efficieny, said ATF CIO Rick Holgate. (FCW photo)

There are still untapped savings and productivity gains to be had for the government through increased use of telework, argued federal IT leaders speaking at the Mobile Work Exchange Town Hall on Sept. 12.

"As a federal workforce, as a federal organization, we are still inordinately attached to real estate," said Rick Holgate, CIO and assistant director for science and technology at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "We, as an organization, have a huge amount of real estate still, even though frankly on a daily basis most of our workforce, if they're being productive, are nowhere near an office."

Holgate cited surveys performed by AOL Government and MeriTalk that estimate mobility could save the government seven work hours per employee per week and between $12 billion and $14 billion annually.

"That's an incredible amount of untapped efficiency in the federal space," Holgate said.

The Telework Enhancement Act was signed into law in 2010 and mandates that agencies establish telework policies.

"And yet we still find ourselves, as individuals, having to build a business case," said Rebecca Ayers, manager for performance management solutions at Office of Personnel Management.

Cultural bias against telework is one of the chief roadblocks to wider implementation, whether in the form of employees who feel more comfortable in the office or managerial reluctance.

"It's not really about recreating the office experience of somewhere else," Holgate said. "It's about thinking differently about how we get work done."

And that thinking may prove critical at a time when sequestration and furloughs are embedded in the federal vernacular.

Bill Powers, senior advisor on business continuity and mobility programs at the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, said telework "has really emerged as a driver for how we can be more engaged and more productive," important with so much emphasis on efficiency in the current budget climate.

Powers said that a case study on a DHS pilot program revealed that teleworking would save employees an average 168 hours of commuting annually.

An increase in workforce mobility could decrease the need for travel subsidies, decrease the amount of workspace needed, increase employee work time and decrease commuter carbon emissions.

Holgate said a major catalyst to increase workforce mobility is creating a security baseline between agencies. Some agencies, including Justice, Defense and DHS, have done this.

"We need to act more like a federal government as opposed to numerous independent department and agencies," Holgate said.

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