GSA and OPM develop new toolkit for telework, counter auditors' criticism
- By Jason Miller
- Aug 29, 2003
'We are looking at the particular needs of the smaller agencies.'
'OPM's Abby Block
The Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration are spending $500,000 to help 20 agencies improve their struggling telework programs.
The two agencies are charged with making sure all eligible federal employees are offered at least the opportunity to telecommute by the end of next year. To help agencies where less than 2 percent of employees telecommute, OPM and GSA are developing a special toolkit.
'We are looking at the particular needs of the smaller agencies,' said Abby Block, OPM's deputy associate director of the Employee and Family Support Policy Center. 'We are conducting focus groups and doing other outreach to understand how to better work with them.'
In its most recent survey of agencies' telework programs, OPM found six agencies with more than 30,000 workers that were below that 2 percent mark: the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Justice, State and Veterans Affairs, and the Small Business Administration.
Block would not offer more information about the toolkit, but she said it is one of many ways OPM and GSA are working to improve federal telework opportunities.
For instance, the agencies last month launched a redesigned www.telework.gov
site. It includes an updated frequently asked questions section, a refined definition of telework, and new and easier navigation tools, Block said.
OPM and GSA also are putting the final touches on an agreement to specify every agency's responsibilities to promote telework. Wendell Joice, GSA's governmentwide telework team program leader, said the agreement will help agencies identify their needs when it comes to promoting and managing telework programs.
Despite these cooperative efforts between GSA and OPM, the General Accounting Office recently concluded the agencies aren't coordinating governmentwide telework efforts closely enough.
In a report to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, GAO said the two agencies have done a poor job resolving conflicting views on telework matters.
The agencies need to work together to provide 'consistent, inclusive, unambiguous support and guidance related to telework,' said the report, Human Capital: Further Guidance, Assistance and Coordination Can Improve Federal Telework Efforts. To read GAO's report online, go to www.gcn.com and enter 153 in the GCN.com/search box.
GAO said an example of typical miscommunication occurred when the two agencies issued contradictory information about dependent care and emergency government closings.
In written responses to a draft version of the report, GSA and OPM disagreed with some of GAO's findings. But in the final report, GAO noted that the written responses contradicted information given to GAO by the two agencies' officials during the audit.
OPM and GSA officials said they are working to create a cohesive approach to telecommuting.
GSA is working with the Telework Consortium of Herndon, Va., to improve federal telecommuting efforts. Congress appropriated funds last year to create the consortium. With the $5.8 million, the consortium has worked with GSA telecenters around the Washington area and with agencies to test teleworking technologies, said John Starke, president of the consortium.
The consortium is running a pilot with the Treasury Department's Inspector General for Tax Administration bureau to test collaboration tools and develop metrics to measure the success of the pilot. The metrics will assess factors such as real estate management, use of telecommunications and software products, and effects on the bureau's internal network.
'One of the things we need to do is work with the IT people to get the bandwidth and communications infrastructure in place,' Starke said. 'That is the biggest cost for agencies. The collaboration tools are a one-time cost, but upgrading the connection to the desktop to at least a T1 line is the biggest problem.'