Editor's Desk: Telework temptation

Wyatt Kash

Telework has been one tough sell around Washington. That's not good news. Especially as something of a perfect workforce storm appears to be brewing just outside the Beltway.

Washington may be one of the nation's hottest employment markets. But the reality is, a dearth of affordable housing, one- and two-hour commutes, and rising living costs are dampening the government's ability to attract bright young talent into the corridors of Washington.

Add to that the sky-rocketing costs for commercial rents, utilities, and employee benefits, not to mention the steady rumble of retiring federal workers shuffling out the door, and it's easy to see why telework programs are getting urgent attention.

Yet telework programs appear to be making about as much progress as Beltway commuters during rush hour.

The recent theft of Veterans Affairs Department data from an employee's home certainly didn't help the telework cause.

Clearly, better measures are needed to help teleworkers handle government data more securely. One step worth taking: Provide telework employees with government-issued equipment. It is unrealistic to expect employees to do the government's work securely on ad hoc home computer systems.

But it would be shortsighted'and ultimately costly'to throw the telework baby out with the data-security bath water.

The slow pace of telework programs is already costing government in lost productivity. According to a new report released last week by the General Services Administration, a 50,000-employee agency, investing $15.6 million in a telework program over three years, could expect to see $36 million in savings over the same period in reduced facilities costs and productivity gains.

But more than that, telework programs provide critical paths to continuity-of- operations planning and attracting the next generation of knowledge workers. Hopefully, the VA incident will help accelerate'rather than sidetrack'telework efforts.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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