Telework seen aiding COOP, but barriers remain

Telework seen aiding COOP, but barriers remain

Effective federal telework programs can help prepare agencies for maintaining continuity of operations during disasters or other work disruptions, a panel of senior IT officials said today. But despite the effectiveness of many federal telework programs, obstacles remain, panelists said.

'We look at COOP and telework working together,' said Federal Emergency Management Agency CIO Barry West. He spoke today on a Federal Executive Forum panel discussing COOP and telework for Federal News Radio.

'We have telework at FEMA,' West said. 'It depends on the job itself. You have to have a policy' to coordinate telework activities, he added.

FEMA has decided that all its employees in the telework program will use computers provided by the government, which involved significant expenses but also helped FEMA control security issues related to remote networking links, West said.

Several roadblocks to broader federal telework adoption remain, some panelists noted.

Treasury Department CIO Ira Hobbs said, 'The jury is still out on telework. There are pockets inside the federal government where it is working well. There are other pockets [where it has not caught on].'

Hobbs noted that telework programs serve as an incentive to recruit and retain federal workers. But he added, 'This is going to require retraining, especially for supervisors.'

Hobbs said supervisors would have to adapt to new methods of evaluating employee performance. 'The government tends to move slowly but it tends to get it right,' he said.

Federal managers themselves could be a potential barrier to increased telework, according to panelist Lou Anne Brossman, director of federal marketing for Juniper Networks.

'I held a federal focus group with managers who all said they didn't want telework because they would lose control,' Brossman said.

OMB official Glenn Schlarman noted that COOP problems came in two varieties. 'I want to distinguish between short-term recovery and long-term operations,' he said, noting that contamination of a headquarters building could prevent federal workers from using it for months at a time. The two different circumstances could require different approaches to telework.

'In my opinion, the government is trying to re-energize [telework programs] but struggling to take full advantage of them,' said panel moderator Jim Flyzik, former Treasury Department CIO, chairman of the Information Technology Association of America and president of The Flyzik Group.

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