Ramping up federal telework adoption

Congressman wants to withhold funding from agencies that don't promote telework

There are renewed efforts underway to encourage the government to put more teeth into its telework initiatives. Despite over a decade of increasing adoption, telework remains the exception in most federal agencies. Overall, the government lags well behind private industry in terms of adoption, experts say.

Most recently, Congress has been getting serious about making federal agencies expand the telework opportunities for their employees. The House of Representatives last month approved a provision in a fiscal 2006 appropriations bill for certain federal agencies requiring those agencies prove more of their workers are teleworking or risk losing funding.

The driving force behind this push is Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). Wolf is chairman of the Science-State-Justice-Commerce (SSJC) Appropriations subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over agencies including the Commerce, Justice and State departments, NASA and the entire federal court system.

Last year Wolf inserted language in a fiscal 2005 spending bill requiring that the departments of Justice, State and Commerce, along with the Small Business Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission, certify that their eligible workers are permitted to telework or each forfeit $5 million at the end of the fiscal year. These agencies also are required to designate a “telework coordinator” to oversee their telecommuting programs and make quarterly status reports.

This year Wolf inserted language in the SSJC appropriations bill requiring that those agencies show an increase in the number of federal workers telecommuting in fiscal 2006 or forfeit $5 million each. In addition, NASA and the National Science Foundation also will now be required to certify that telecommuting opportunities are made available to eligible workers.

“Some agencies are doing better than others when it comes to providing opportunities for their employees to telework, but we still have a long way to go,” Wolf said in a statement. “As I have said before, I do not like having to be so heavy handed and threaten to withhold funding, but if that is what it is going to take to get more people teleworking, then that is what I will continue to do.”

Multiple studies have shown the benefits of telework, including happier and more productive employees, reduced traffic, environmental savings and business continuity-related opportunities, according to Wolf. “The federal government should be leading the way when it comes to teleworking instead of being pushed in to it," he said. "There simply is just no magic in strapping ourselves in a metal box every day and driving ourselves to the office only to sit behind a computer or talk on the phone for eight hours."

The fiscal 2006 SSJC appropriations bill currently awaits Senate consideration.

Meanwhile, outside Capitol Hill, a security group last week released a research report calling for increased adoption of telework by the federal government http://www.telework.gov/.

The greatest barriers to expanding telework in the federal sector are not technology related, says the Cyber Security Industry Alliance (CSIA), a public policy and advocacy group dedicated to cyber security. Rather, the two biggest obstacles are weak incentives for agencies - since they don't get to keep the money they save by reducing overhead expenses, such as office space costs - and lack of support from managers who prefer keeping employees onsite.

The federal government's General Accounting Office also has cited lack of full funding and a shortage of telework training and information as obstacles to adoption, but it hasn’t said technology or cyber security are obstacles, CSIA reports in its new publication, "Making Telework a Federal Priority: Security is Not the Issue."

"It is a fairly common misconception that cyber security concerns are holding back telework in the federal government. However, our research indicates that not only are the cyber security and technology requirements achievable, but that telework can in fact be beneficial to an agency's overall security by providing a viable strategy for maintaining continuity of operations during a security incident or natural disaster," said Paul Kurtz, executive director of CSIA, in a statement.

In its new report, CSIA encourages government administrators to have agencies include telework in their business continuity plans. It also recommends Congress expand federal telework programs by including telework in the President’s Management Agenda for e-government; securing telework endorsement from the highest levels of federal agency management; encouraging state and local governments to adopt telework; and exploring new benefits for telework.

CSIA's report also offers security guidelines for creating a safe telework environment. To download a copy of the new report, visit CSIA's Web site.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.