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December 7, 2009 at 1:50 pm #86795
From Federal TImes:
Title: Real telework a ‘nonstarter’ until IT gets revamp
By LINDA BROOKS RIX
For several years now, the Office of Personnel Management has been charged with promoting telework for federal employees, mostly for laudable public policy reasons such as reduced traffic congestion, improved productivity, lower carbon emissions, ensuring continuity of operations in the event of disaster or pandemic, and promoting better work-life balance. Citing all of these reasons, OPM Director John Berry recently endorsed a policy of allowing many federal employees to work from home at least once a week.
Unfortunately, Berry, like his predecessors, continues to ignore the critical role of the federal information technology infrastructure in achieving realistic teleworking goals. Put simply, if the computer system features and functionality and the databases that employees, supervisors and senior managers use every day to get their work done are not fully available to them remotely 24/7/365, then large-scale teleworking is a nonstarter.
Given the public policy advantages of remote secure IT system access, all federal systems should be required to meet a remote access standard. While designing and building IT systems that are secure, yet fully available remotely, is not simple, state-of-the-art system architecture and software development methods and tools make this goal eminently achievable.
Such a requirement is not unprecedented. Today, all federal IT systems are required to meet the requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). Similarly, under Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, agencies that develop, procure, maintain or use electronic and information technology must ensure that federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use available to other federal employees. Both FISMA and Section 508 ensure that federal IT systems are consistent with essential federal public policy objectives, and remote access is certainly no less important.
OPM’s blind spot may result from the failure of its own software to comply with statute or regulation. USAJobs and USAStaffing, OPM’s “commercial” software marketed by OPM to federal agencies on a “fee for service” basis are both outdated client-server systems with a “Web-enabled” front end that makes the system accessible to applicants over the Web. But they do not provide remote secure access to their core feature functionality for managers and staff professionals who need to use the application.
From a security standpoint, USAJobs has been successfully hacked three times in the past two years, potentially compromising the sensitive personal information of hundreds of thousands of job applicants each time. As unbelievable as it may sound, the ongoing problem over lack of security at USAJobs is made worse because the portal still requires applicants to supply a Social Security number, even though OPM itself more than two years ago prohibited all federal agencies from collecting SSNs from applicants.
Instead of continuing the contradiction between its legitimate policy role and its commercial software efforts, OPM should scrap the software and promote the policy by working with the Office of Management and Budget to require that all IT systems built or purchased by the government from today forward — subject to exemption of intelligence systems — have all of their feature functionality fully available remotely with nothing more than Internet access and a standard Web browser.
It is long past time that OPM’s telework “happy talk” is replaced with meaningful action.
Linda Brooks Rix is co-CEO of Avue Technologies, which provides human resources systems to federal agencies.
Copyright © 2009 Army Times Publishing Co.
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