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Home safe home

Oct 28, 20022 mins

With a sniper on the loose, Congress and federal agencies turn their attention to telework

Filling up the tank, going to the store, to school, to work. When you fear going about your daily business, how can you feel safe commuting to the office? That’s the question countless greater Washington, D.C.-area employees have been asking themselves these past two weeks.

In an effort to set government workers’ minds at ease, on Oct. 11, U.S. Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) sent a letter to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) co-signed by four fellow representatives. The letter asked OPM to alert federal agencies to alternative work options such as telework, flextime, working at home, virtual offices and joint or shared facilities available to their employees.

“The indiscriminate nature of the sniper shootings and the size of the area where the crimes took place has heightened concerns among federal employees and their families,” Morella wrote. “Understandably, civil servants are extremely concerned about the safety of family members, and anything the federal government can do to alleviate their concerns should be forwarded.”

In an Oct. 15 response, OPM Director Kay Coles James admitted weighing the need for the OPM to issue additional guidance for flexible work policies against “the unintended effect of raising the level of employee anxiety.” In the end, the OPM chose to leave the expanded use of flexible work options up to individual offices and agencies.

“Agencies have responded to employee needs in the past regarding other emergencies,” OPM spokesman Mike Orenstein says. “The programs are in place. It’s left up to managers and employees to work this out.”

Working from home or a telework or business center also can keep people from making longer commutes, says Joyce Larrick, director of the Bowie (Maryland) Community Network Telecommuting Center, a General Services Administration (GSA)-funded facility used by many federal employees who otherwise would commute long distances to the Beltway.

“Teleworking at home or in one of GSA’s telework centers is a viable alternative to [commuting], but especially advantageous when workers are faced with the challenges presented to us by the recent shootings,” Larrick adds. “Workers in the Washington metropolitan area are facing heightened safety concerns and, once again, most see teleworking as an answer to facing these challenges while still achieving the important work of our government.”