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Status check – Is the fed gov actually teleworking?

The number of people teleworking in the federal government is a bit murky. The reason for the unclear percentage is that agencies are struggling to report actual numbers to the Office of Personnel Management. Those were the findings of a Government Accountability report.

Yvonne Jones is the Director of Strategic Issues at the GAO. She told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that GAO was defined by a mandate in the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act to monitor federal teleworking practices.

GAO looked specially at two things:

  1. Assess the extent to which OPM’s 2012 Status of Telework in the Federal Government Report assessed progress of federal executive agency telework participation and outcomes.
  2. Look at the challenges facing smaller agencies that are also implementing telework programs.

Biggest deterrents to telework?

  • Manager resistance to telework
  • Technology related challenges

“Our report looked at what OOPM reported and their analysis of agency implementation of telework. We found:”

  • OPM partially reported on two of the seven telework reporting requirements outlined in the Telework Enhancement Act. But they did not report agency information for the 5 other requirements.
    • OPM told us this was because not enough time had elapsed for all the requirements of the Act to be fully implemented. Secondly because agencies appeared to face challenges in measuring outcomes.
  • OPM recognized weaknesses in some agency’s sources for telework participation and frequency data. But they have not taken adequate steps to establish a completion date by which agencies could produce data from employee time and attendance tracking systems.
  • Smaller agencies also mentioned they might have trouble procuring telework IT related equipment.

Measuring the data?

“It is important to get accurate data because until we know what percentage of the staff in an agency is teleworking and how many days per week they are teleworking and whether there are changes in telework participation agency by agency from year to year, we won’t really know to what extent the Act is being implemented by the executive branch. It is really important to have good data and OPM recognizes that,” said Jones.

Better data

“OPM has identified that the most reliable data that is collected from automated attendance systems, so OPM has been working with agencies as well as with payroll providers that collect the time and attendance data. OPM hopes that the data will be available to collect in its 2015 Status of Telework report for federal government,” said Jones.

OPM Recommends

  • OPM reports every year the status of telework, we noted OPM should provide goal setting assistance for agencies.
  • Agencies should intend to establish non-participation goals.
  • OPM should include for their 2014 the amount of cost savings and the method they use to verify results.
  • To improve the reliability of data collection, we indicated to OPM they should work with Chief Human Capitol Officers Council to create documented agreements and a timetable to agree on a tracking system.

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

Tools like the Mobile Work Exchange’s new ROI calculator might be useful to address some of the shortcomings. Also, the newest version of WebTA should provide some tools for tracking and reporting telework. However, telework is not a priority unless there is some crisis (e.g. weather event, protest, etc.) that precipitates telework participation.

David Kuehn

I see clear leadership and management support. One, level of employee telework is part of executive ratings. Two, the Agency has invested in the technology. The stability, persistence, and speed of remote systems has improved greatly each year. Three, and most importantly, it enhances productivity. This week when people had to shelter-in-pace because of the Navy Yard shooter, employees who had not started their tour of duty had to turn around and go home. Many were able to telework the rest of the day. There still are issues. In weather emergencies, employees may not be able to work from home because they lost power or need to take care of children since schools also would be closed. In general, however, telework has provided the flexibility to continue work under a range of circumstances, which benefits both leadership and employees.

Dennis Snyder

What makes the teleworking issue so bizzare is we still have managers at VA who insist that when employees change teams they have to move their computer and phone. Why, I ask, is it important to move your desk if you telework 40 miles away? Or 1,000 miles? Then you have to come into the office one day per week so the supervisor can see if you are still alive. No particular reason. Those are the rules, I don’t make ’em up. Our customers can file and track claims from their homes, we administer the access, and yet can’t get it for ourselves. Some departments allow their employees to freely telecommute and might come in once every few months, I could live with that. So, how do other agencies get their 14’s to follow agency and OPM policy? I know how stupid that sounds, but truth is stranger than fiction.