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GSA in the Dark about How Many Virtual Workers It Has

Tomasz Trojanowski/Shutterstock.com

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By Jack Moore January 21, 2015

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The General Services Administration doesn’t know how many of its employees telework full time.

A new report from GSA’s inspector general found that despite keeping a purported master list of so-called virtual workers, GSA doesn't actually know the number of employees who telework on a full-time basis.

That’s because GSA’s master list doesn't differentiate between so-called virtual workers and satellite employees -- those employees who work on assignment at other GSA offices away from their home office.

There’s also some uncertainty about the reliability of the data that make up the list itself, auditors said.

A list of potential virtual workers provided to the IG during the audit, which took place between April 2013 and January 2014, contained the names of 454 employees. But that included both virtual and satellite employees.

It’s unclear if GSA knows today how many total virtual employees are on the rolls.

GSA’s chief human capital officer, Antonia Harris, told auditors the agency has taken steps to improve record-keeping of virtual workers. A GSA spokeswoman reiterated those reforms in an email to Nextgov and said a wholesale update to the agency’s mobility and telework policy would come in the next 90 days. But it’s still unclear whether the agency now has a better handle on the number of virtual GSA workers.

Auditors were able to identify a sample of virtual workers based on the amount of travel and telework records. Based on that sample, the IG determined some workers who were classified by the agency as virtual employees did not have complete documentation on file approving their request to go virtual full-time.

However, auditors didn’t set out to “identify a complete universe of virtual employees,” according to the report.

Some of the employees eventually identified by the IG as virtual employees did not have the proper documentation laying out the estimated costs associated with their request to work remotely. Virtual workers are allowed to reimburse travel costs to the agency when they have to visit their offices in person as part of their official duties.

The IG also reported that a few virtual workers were not correctly using the proper pay codes to denote the hours they teleworked in a given pay period, which caused inaccuracies in the telework data GSA is required to report to the Office of Personnel Management.

Part of the problem is that GSA’s time and attendance system lacks a unique code to identify virtual employees, the IG said.

The IG recommended GSA consider establishing such a code “that would facilitate identification and monitoring of virtual employees.”

The report paints some bad news for GSA’s telework program, generally regarded as a model program in the federal government. All told, more than 78 percent of GSA employees teleworked at some point between August 2012 and July 2013, the IG reported.

Harris, GSA’s HR chief, said she “does not dispute the findings and accepts the recommendations” laid out in the IG report. 

She said GSA has already taken a number of steps to address the IG’s findings, including conducting annual reviews of all virtual work agreements. The update to GSA’s telework policy will require new employees to undergo training and file all paperwork associated with their virtual work arrangements within 60 days of their hire date.

Harris’ office is also in talks with the chief financial officer to come up with new payroll codes for recording full-time telework.

(Image via Tomasz Trojanowski/Shutterstock.com)

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