• United States

Why federal telework is slow to grow

Sep 02, 20033 mins
Data Center

* New GAO report faults two agencies charged with promoting the practice

It would never have gone down this way in the private sector. Two departments charged with the same task? But when federal agencies look for guidance on implementing telework, they have two organizations to guide them, the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.

The agencies jointly run the government’s telework Web site ( and together produced a report with a series of recommendations in August 2002. Otherwise, they each produce their own telework guidelines and reports, conduct training sessions and seminars, and provide agencies with support, outreach and consulting. Singly, GSA runs the telework centers, and OPM hosts quarterly telework coordinators meetings.

As you’d expect, GSA and OPM don’t always agree on policy, causing confusion in agencies and likely slowing telework adoption. For instance, OPM has stated that teleworkers can’t care for dependents in the home while working, while GSA says it’s fine so long as dependents don’t interfere with work.

Fortunately, the General Accounting Office (GAO) recently stepped in, conducting an analysis of the fed’s telework efforts, which included many interviews with GSA and OPM officials, as well as an analysis of the telework efforts of four representative agencies.

The GAO’s report, “Human Capital: Further Guidance, Assistance, and Coordination Can Improve Federal Telework Efforts”, found GSA and OPM “have not fully coordinated their telework efforts and have had difficulty resolving their conflicting views…As a result agencies have not received consistent, inclusive, unambiguous support and guidance related to telework.”

When OPM created its guidelines for telework in 2001, it failed to clarify what it meant for employees to be allowed to telework or what constituted an eligible employee, the GAO report found. So when OPM gathered data for its 2002 survey on the state of federal telework, agencies didn’t always use “equivalent interpretations” of the statement in responding.  To some, eligible employees were counted as those who were qualified but not necessarily approved to telework; others counted eligible employees as only those who’d been given the option to telework. The OPM then considered all this data the number of employees offered the option to telework, which wasn’t accurate.

Regarding conflicting messages about at-home dependents, upon the release of the report, OPM changed its policy to state teenagers or elderly dependents can be in the house, so long as they are “independently pursuing their own activities.”

For the report, the GAO identified 25 key telework practices it grouped under seven categories: program planning; telework policy; performance management; managerial support; training and publicizing; technology; and program evaluation. In evaluating four agencies’ programs, the GAO found all had implemented some practices, such as creating a formal telework policy, but none had established measurable program goals or fully implemented a training program.

The GAO found the agencies did better in the category of technology implementation than any other, although it noted that due to the ever-changing nature of technology, agencies should provide “specific and ongoing attention to these technology practices.”

The report urged the two agencies to “clearly delineate their responsibilities…and work together to resolve areas of difference.” In response, OPM and GSA say they are considering drafting a “Memorandum of Understanding” that will better designate responsibilities.

To read the full report, go to and search on report number: GAO-03-679.