Uneven broadband traffic jams telework progress, GSA says

Uneven broadband traffic jams telework progress, GSA says

The General Services Administration this month will tell Congress that telework programs cannot succeed without a more equitable bandwidth distribution.

To draft its report, which identifies the chief hurdles to successful federal telecommuting efforts, GSA interviewed managers at 10 agencies that have successfully negotiated the technical barriers to telework. But all agencies must overcome the hurdles because the Transportation Appropriations Act of 2000 requires agencies by 2004 to offer all employees the opportunity to telecommute at least part time. The law's goals? Traffic and pollution reduction.

'It's still very early in the game for telework,' said John McGady, one of the consultants who helped GSA draft its report. The senior associate at Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., spoke last month at the FOSE 2002 trade show in Washington.

McGady said teleworkers need broadband connectivity, not dial-up connections, to do their work successfully from home. Other barriers, he said, are security, technical support and application migration.

Connectivity divide

Tim Kane, president of Kinetic Workplace Inc. of Pittsburgh and president of the International Telework Association & Council of Wakefield, Mass., said he expects GSA's report to stress the disparity of Internet connections and overall incompatibility of agency systems and processes.

'I had a cursory look' at the report, he said. 'Broadband is an excellent catalyst for telework, but it is not uniformly distributed.'

If one agency teleworker can obtain only a dial-up Internet connection while another lives in a neighborhood with faster digital subscriber line or cable access, the individual latency problems can create trouble on a virtual private network, Kane said.

'A couple of seconds' delay sometimes causes passwords to time out,' Kane said. 'A quick lapse can make a big difference. You need to be able to port each worker into your IT infrastructure. That's not easy when you think about all the security issues.'

Meanwhile, the High-Tech Broadband Coalition last week asked the Federal Communications Commission to remove 'burdensome, outdated regulations that are hindering investment and limiting competition in high-speed Internet access.'

That would help the public sector as well, said Derek Khlopin, director of law and public policy for the Telecommunications Industry Association of Washington.

'For a lot of applications, transfer speed and network security are issues,' Khlopin said.

Marvin Hart, assistant director of the Treasury Department's Inspector General for Tax Administration Office, said a third of his office's 1,040 employees telecommute one or two days a week, and a smaller percentage work daily from home or a remote center.

He said Treasury leases Dell Computer Corp. notebook PCs, printers and other peripherals for the workers. Each notebook has a firewall, and Treasury's VPN safeguards the data transfers.

Webify, webify

'Test out one new technology at a time,' advised Sharon Terango, senior analyst for customer consulting in the Treasury CIO's office. 'And webify as many applications as you can.'

Disabled workers encounter additional technical barriers to teleworking, said Rick Miller, deputy CIO for IT at the Education Department. Education has set up an assistive technology center to aid disabled workers who want to telecommute. But some agencies 'might have problems, depending on an employee's degree of disability,' said Joe Tozzi, the center's director.

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