Wyatt Kash | New grease for telework

Editor's Desk

Wyatt Kash

Federal teleworkers ' and the IT staffs who must support them ' got some welcome clarification from the General Services Administration on March 2. GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy issued several new guidelines that spell out what agencies are permitted to provide employees who work remotely from the office.

The provisions may seem incidental. But they represent some much-needed grease to get federal telework wheels spinning.

It's now clear, for instance, that agencies are permitted to provide teleworking employees with computers, printers, copy machines, scanners and fax machines ' or lend teleworkers IT equipment that departments have replaced as a part of their refresh cycle.

Perhaps more importantly, agencies also can use appropriated funds to provide teleworkers with telephone and Internet lines, as well as installation costs, equipment costs, usage fees and service charges for connectivity.

The guidelines address certain security concerns that have hampered would-be teleworkers. Agencies ' with the right provisions in place ' now may allow teleworkers access to secure information, such as schedules, budget analyses and other systems as necessitated by specific tasks. They may also let teleworkers use alternative worksite equipment and associated technical support for continuity of operations.

But if the brief history of government telework has shown us anything, legislation and clearer provisions often aren't enough to overcome the inertia of the status quo.

GSA, for instance, said teleworkers 'should receive adequate training on the use of IT systems and applications needed for effective job performance,' including security training. Agencies also should provide 'adequate and effective help desk support for teleworkers,' requiring help desk personnel to know how to address remote access hardware and software issues.

But with so many agencies struggling to keep up with IT consolidation and security initiatives ' let alone budget issues ' it's hard to imagine that teleworkers or help desks will get the training support they actually need.

GSA's latest bulletin is a good step in the right direction. But it will likely take more mandates and funding before telework begins to add a necessary layer in federal continuity-of-operations plans.

Wyatt Kash, Editorial director

E-mail: wkash@1105govinfo.com

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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