Some Agencies Fail on Telework

A major hurdle for federal agencies in implementing a 2010 telework law is simply making the determination on what roles and jobs can be completed while working remotely, according to a recent survey by the Congressional Research Service.

The survey, which was requested by Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and John Sarbanes, D-Md., found that even while some agencies have a high percentage of desk jobs, many have a fairly prohibitive telework eligibility and low rates of telework participation. The Veterans Affairs Department, for example, has classified 87.5 percent of employees as ineligible to telework, and failed to provide CRS any detailed information to justify having such high rates of ineligibility. The Homeland Security Department also has classified 70 percent of employees as ineligible for remote work, with an average of just 0.016 percent of employees teleworking during the average pay period, CRS found.

"This abysmal telework performance in inexplicable in light of the large number of DHS office positions and could prove to be a threat to national security if DHS is unable to implement a continuity of operations plan because its employees are unaccustomed to telework," Connolly and Sarbanes stated in a letter to OPM Director John Berry.

Under the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, agencies were required to establish a policy on working outside the office, identify eligible employees and inform them of the option. The law also required agencies to name an official to manage telework programs, and incorporate the policy into plans for continuing essential services during natural disasters or other emergencies.

Meanwhile, other agencies, like the Health and Human Services and Education departments, have classified a high percentage of employees as eligible to telework, but only a small percentage of total work hours are completed remotely, CRS noted. "This suggests that while some agencies are doing good work to improve eligibility, many also need to ensure that telework is routine," the letter states.

Still, some agencies stood out as leaders on federal telework, most notably the Agriculture Department, the Patent and Trademark Office and the General Services Administration, CRS found. USDA has high telework participation, despite the fact that many employees spend a lot of time in the field, and PTO employees completed 40 percent of all work hours under a telework arrangement, the survey found.

Agencies also reported difficulty in quantifying energy and real estate cost savings from telework, and CRS recommended looking to agencies like PTO and GSA for methods of quantifying cost savings. "Considering that PTO has saved $4.36 million in real estate costs by avoiding construction of individual offices for 3,464 employees, savings governmentwide could be substantial and should be quantified," the letter states.

The Transportation, Justice and Housing and Urban Development departments did not respond to CRS's survey.