Lack of broadband access hampers agency telework acceptance

Four years ago, Congress mandated that by 2004 agencies offer 100 percent of all eligible workers the opportunity to telework. That deadline passed Sept. 30 and departments have offered only 14.1 percent of federal workers qualified to telecommute that opportunity, according to the Office of Personnel Management's report from January.

One of the biggest problems, according to one CIO, is the lack of broadband technology.

Dan Matthews, Transportation Department CIO, said today that employees need high-speed Internet access to work on large files, take part in videoconferencing and online chats with one or more co-workers.

'There is never enough bandwidth,' Matthews said at a conference in Washington on telework sponsored by the Potomac Forum Ltd. of Potomac, Md. 'Agencies may not have to invest in a lot of software because it is free on the Internet, but you can't work using dial-up Internet access.'

Matthews said the technology challenges are easy to solve, but the managerial and employee resistance and the lack of funding play a large role in agencies' slow progress in offering the option to telecommute.

The Patent and Trademark Office solved the broadband problem by paying for digital subscriber line or cable high-speed access for all teleworkers, said Meryl Hershkowitz, managing attorney for PTO's Trademark Telework Law Office.

With agencies falling well short of the congressional requirement, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has included a provision in the Commerce, Justice and State appropriations bill that would withhold $5 million from each agency covered by the legislation that has not met the 100 percent goal. See GCN story. Wolf sponsored the original legislation that set the goals.

Michael Layman, a professional staff member for the House Committee on Government Reform, said Wolf is confident that the provision will remain intact.

Layman added that Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) is closely following Wolf's provision and will consider extending it governmentwide in the 2006 appropriations bills.

'There are only two ways to get agencies' attention: threaten their budgets or have them testify,' he said. 'Both have been done and have had positive affects. Congressman Wolf's action is a big step and that is one reason why Chairman Davis has not acted more quickly with a governmentwide provision.'

Layman said Davis likely will hold another hearing on telework issues in the spring.

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