'Old School' Mindset Inhibits Federal Telework, Report Finds

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OPM lays blame on agencies for not handing in telework program data.

Federal agency leadership has not committed to implementing and tracking new telework policies, according to a new audit.

In a report, the Government Accountability Office found the Office of Personnel Management has insufficiently assessed the use of telework across government. OPM, however, said agencies did not deliver their data due to management resistance and a lack of resources.

The 2010 Telework Enhancement Act -- which aimed to increase federal employees’ ability to work outside the office -- required OPM to report annually on the progress of implementing new telework policies at all executive agencies. The human resources agency has not sufficiently set goals or obtained data from federal entities, GAO found.

For the most part, OPM relied on data provided by the agencies themselves in its 2012 report, the first issued since the telework act became law. Agencies did not have the resources or willpower to meet the data tracking requirements of the act, according to OPM.

Large and small agencies alike complained of  “old school” temperaments from supervisors that obstruct teleworking. Additionally, technological limitations mitigated agencies’ ability to monitor telework statistics, such as participation rates, cost savings and keeping up with set goals. Small agencies also struggled to implement new telework policies due to the inability to have a backup employee available in the office when a worker was teleworking, as well as limited funding to install new teleworking technologies.

Many agencies did not “have the systems capacity to collect all requested data,” GAO found. OPM has already taken steps to rectify this situation, as it has reached an agreement with payroll providers to collect telework data automatically. GAO said OPM needs a better timeline for implementing the automated data collection, as well as more documented agreements that will formally commit agencies to taking action.

Only 47 percent of agencies have established numeric participation goals, as required by the telework act. OPM has said it plans to have all agencies provide participation goals by 2014, but GAO called on OPM to require more firm timetables and milestones from each agency.

OPM did not request a specific cost savings analysis for its 2012 telework report, and just three agencies chose to provide one. GAO recommended OPM help agencies formulate cost savings -- which typically result from reduced rent and transportation subsidies -- as well as monitor and verify their measurements. OPM said it will ask agencies to identify the amount of cost savings from telework in time for its 2014 report. 

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