GSA to stop funding D.C.-area private telework centers

The General Services Administration will discontinue funding for 13 private telework centers in the Washington area at the end of March. About 300 federal employees work at the facilities.

Contracts for the telework centers expired Sept. 30, 2010, and GSA had been working with the center's owners to determine if they would close, or continue to operate under a private sector model. A final decision on the centers' future was due Feb. 28.

According to GSA spokeswoman MaryAnne Beatty, the number of employees working at the centers represented less than 1 percent of the Washington-area federal workforce. The government spent about $3 million annually to operate the centers -- about $10,000 a year per user. Affected employees were notified in December of potential closures.

GSA said in an e-mailed statement that telework is less about where work gets done and more about how it gets done. "Advancements in technology, connectivity and culture have expanded the choices for telework beyond that of home, telework center, or office to include virtually any place at any time," the statement said.

In October 2010, Administrator Martha Johnson announced that GSA was building virtual meeting centers across the country, including five in the Washington area. The high-tech centers, which are expected to be operational in mid-2011, were intended to have people "move off airplanes and on to tele presence," she said at the time.

The telework centers that will close March 31 include Bowie, Laurel Lake and Prince Frederick in Maryland; Fredericksburg and Winchester in Virginia; and Kearneysville in West Virginia.

The centers that will remain open but without GSA funding include Manassas, Fairfax, Stafford and Woodbridge in Virginia; and Hagerstown, Frederick and Waldorf in Maryland.

The College of Southern Maryland operates three of the centers that will close. "The college is extremely disappointed as we have had a longtime association, since 1993, of partnering with GSA to provide this valuable service and convenience to our residents and telecommuting members of our community," CSM President Bradley Gottfried said in a prepared statement.

George Mason University, despite the end of federal funding, will keep its telecommuting facilities open and actually expand the program to operate nine centers across Northern Virginia. The university believes there is a demand for flexible locations among employees for whom working from home is not a great fit, said Keith Segerson, managing director of the Mason Enterprise Center, which runs the facilities. For example, one federal worker told Segerson his wife runs a day care from home, so he cannot work there. Also, the facilities can more easily accommodate work teams than most home offices, he said.

The university will add new features, such as workstations and private offices, Segerson said.

Because the university is a state agency, the space is leased out at a price for the university to break even, not make a profit. Beginning April 1, the daily rate for a federal flex office center client is $59 per day, with lower prices for extended group usage, according to a memo provided to Nextgov.

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