GSA tries technology to ease telecommuting

A budget cut 'is the type of action required to get the wheelbarrow moving' on telework.

'Rep. Tom Davis

Henrik G. de Gyor

Rep. Davis threatens funding if telework goals are not met

When Wendell Joice became head of the General Services Administration's government-wide telework team, he didn't realize how much the Office of Personnel Management would count on him to douse the fire brewing on Capitol Hill over telecommuting.

The House last week passed the Commerce, Justice and State fiscal 2005 appropriations bill with a provision to withhold $5 million from every agency in the bill that failed to meet telework goals. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) sponsored the provision.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said he would consider extending the provision to all appropriations bills to pressure agencies to fulfill their telework mandate.

Drew Crockett, a Government Reform Committee spokesman, said Davis has not made a final decision on which bills to amend, because some agencies are responding better to telework opportunities than others.

'This is the type of action required to get the wheelbarrow moving,' Davis said earlier this month at a telework hearing. 'The innovations of the information age'laptop computers, broadband Internet service, BlackBerrys and so forth'continue to make location less relevant in the working world. Telework capitalizes on these advances, offering a broad range of benefits to employers and employees.'

That's where Joice's office comes in. He and colleagues are trying out videoconferencing hardware and software over broadband connections and will begin testing wireless access at speeds ranging from 56 Kbps to broadband. Joice also is trying to figure out the best way for agencies to pay for wireless access on a per-use basis.

'We want to see what the impact of these technologies will be,' Joice said. 'Blending technology with management was a key recommendation from GSA's report on the technological barriers to teleworking.'

Since January, Joice and three others have been testing videoconferencing hardware from Logitec Inc. of Fremont, Calif., with software from Marratech AB of Sweden, either at their homes or at GSA telework centers.

'We want to get it completely free of glitches and then determine the minimum acceptable speed,' Joice said. 'Once we get past that, we would like to make sure it can work inside agency firewalls.'

Few teleworkers

Joice said his team also is testing hardware and software from Comcast Corp. of Philadelphia, Nortel Networks Ltd. of Toronto and Time Warner Inc. of New York, as well as wireless Internet connections from Verizon Communications Inc. of New York.

GSA and OPM came under fire from lawmakers after a recent federal survey found that only 14 percent of all eligible employees work away from the office at least one day a week. Agencies have until 2005 to offer 100 percent of all eligible federal employees an opportunity to telecommute.

Wolf said the problem appears to be at the leadership level and not with the workers.

'Word is not getting out,' he said at the hearing. 'This has been the law for a long time and yet it is not being complied with. Perhapsthe hearing will start to get things going.'

GSA and OPM, which lead the federal telework efforts, hear the lawmakers' concerns.

OPM is considering asking the Office of Management and Budget to make teleworking compliance a part of the President's Management Agenda scorecard.

'The time is right for including telework as a specific, measurable goal for agencies in their scorecards,' OPM director Kay Coles James said. 'A useful incentive for change will be to incorporate telework participation goals into OPM's evaluation of agency human resources programs.'

OPM also is more aggressively enforcing agency compliance with the law requiring 20 of the largest agencies to set aside a minimum of $50,000 a year to support employee use of telework centers.

James recently met the 16 members of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council at the Fairfax, Va., Telework Center to promote telecommuting.

Scott Hatch, OPM director of communications, said OPM and the Environmental Protection Agency are encouraging federal telework through a series of educational seminars and information toolkits.

'The largest hurdles for the government to overcome are attitudes and perceptions of managers,' James said. 'We can [meet the telework targets], but the timeline is unrealistic. We will see exponential changes in the number of opportunities for employees to telework next year.'


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