OPM telework report highlights government progress

Although the number of federal teleworkers has risen to 300,000, that's still less than one-third of those eligible to do so.

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More federal employees are teleworking than ever before, according to the annual telework report the Office of Personnel Management submitted to Congress on Dec. 18.

Approximately 300,000 federal employees teleworked in fiscal 2012, a 24 percent increase from 2011. That jump is attributable in large part to more employees signing telework agreements with their agencies. By the end of fiscal 2012, the report states, 267,227 federal employees had signed agreements detailing their telework arrangements with their agencies.

"The federal government has come a long way since we started in 2005," said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Mobile Work Exchange. "OPM's latest data proves strong interest, momentum and value in these programs. The numbers are in line with what we are seeing with Mobile Work Exchange programs. Last year's Telework Week, for example, saw a large leap in interest and participation."

OPM's 257-page report was released later than originally intended in part because of the partial government shutdown in October. In the report, OPM points to the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 as a continuing driver of agencies' telework initiatives. The law requires agencies to create policies to maximize telework use, and OPM's report suggests that the majority of agencies are complying.

Yet Auten said the transition from working at the office to working remotely on a routine basis will not happen overnight. The 300,000 feds who teleworked in fiscal 2012 represent only 30 percent of the 1 million employees who are eligible to do so. Studies have shown that the government might be missing out on as much as $6 billion in savings annually by not promoting telework more aggressively.

"This isn't a flip of the switch," Auten said.

Barriers such as management resistance continue to hinder telework efforts, and agencies that do not have strong telework programs also commonly cite IT budget and security issues as major barriers.

OPM's study also revealed:

  • A 49 percent increase in telework eligibility: Just over 1 million feds were deemed eligible for telework in fiscal 2012, up from 684,589 in 2011.
  • An 84 percent increase in telework agreements: 267,227 employees at 81 agencies had signed agreements in 2012, up from 144,851 in 2011.
  • A 24 percent increase in the number employees who teleworked in September 2012 versus September 2011.
  • An increase in the number of agencies reporting that teleworkers were given specific training about what is expected of them in an emergency -- from 34 percent of agencies in 2011 to 46 percent in 2012.
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