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The Status of Telework in the Federal Government 2004

III. Introduction


Section 359 of Public Law 106-346 (FY 2001 Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act), states, "Each executive agency shall establish a policy under which eligible employees of the agency may participate in telecommuting to the maximum extent possible without diminishing employee performance." The law defines telecommuting as "any arrangement in which an employee regularly performs officially assigned duties at home or other work sites geographically convenient to the residence of the employee," and eligible employee as, " … any satisfactorily performing employee of the agency whose job may typically be performed at least one day per week at an alternative workplace."

To fulfill its responsibilities under this legislation, OPM has conducted an annual survey of Federal agencies on telework implementation since 2001 to track and report progress toward meeting statutory requirements. In addition, OPM is working in partnership with the General Services Administration (GSA) to promote telework throughout the Federal Government. This report summarizes findings from the 2003 telework survey and describes the major telework promotional activities undertaken by OPM and GSA in 2003.

In recent years, both Congress and the Executive branch have increasingly promoted telework to help achieve important public policy goals. Among these are protecting environmental quality and energy conservation by reducing traffic congestion and vehicle emissions; improving employees' work lives by allowing a better balance of work and family responsibilities and reducing work-related stress; improving the Government's ability to recruit and retain a high-quality workforce in a competitive job market; and providing for continuity of operations during emergencies.

Over the past several years, Congress has increasingly sought to encourage more widespread use of telework. Section 359 of Public Law 106-346 required all Executive agencies to establish telecommuting policies. The law also directed OPM to ensure that this requirement was applied to 25 percent of the Federal workforce by April 2001, and to an additional 25 percent in each subsequent year.

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Post-Disaster Response

In the aftermath of September 11, telework has become a matter of necessity for many employees and employers. Displaced workers in the New York area and at the Pentagon were left without offices. Road closings and increased security precautions exacerbated already severe traffic congestion. Additionally, as a result of weather disasters such as Hurricane Isabel, many Federal managers began to take a fresh look at telework arrangements. Telework has been integrated into the Federal Government's Continuity of Operations Program (COOP), and agencies are including telework in their own agency COOP plans. OPM has brought the Executive agencies together several times to discuss emergency preparedness plans and to present telework as one important tool to continue Government operations during emergencies.

Strategic Focus

Since 2001, OPM has encouraged agencies to develop policies, offer eligible employees the opportunity to telework, and increase the number of teleworkers. In 2003, under the leadership of Director Kay Coles James, OPM's focus sharpened as we thought more strategically about telework's place in human capital management. Key elements of our current strategic focus include:

  • Emergency Planning -- Telework is essential for agencies' emergency planning, whether for snowstorms, natural disasters, or terrorist events. For an agency to be effective in an emergency, a solid telework program must be in place before the event.
  • Management Benefits -- Regularly-scheduled telework provides a cadre of well- prepared teleworkers whose predictability facilitates efficient management.
  • Tests for Special Situations -- Occasional telework in response to special situations is also useful, primarily because it allows the employee and supervisor to test out telework before making a long-term commitment to a telework arrangement.
  • Agency Control of /Responsibility for Programs/Progress -- While OPM and GSA can provide materials and leadership to the agencies to assist them in their telework programs, Federal agencies bear responsibility for their own programs, and can do more to assure that as many employees as possible can participate in telework.

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Modification of Survey Instrument

In 2003, we modified the survey instrument to sharpen and clarify definitions in order to collect more precise information about the implementation of telework programs by Federal agencies. A copy of the 2003 survey instrument is attached as Appendix A. These changes were designed to provide agencies with information that would empower them to move forward toward the statutory goal of allowing eligible Federal employees to telework to the maximum extent practicable. Based on the survey results, we will encourage agencies to reexamine their telework policies to ensure that they clearly describe the conditions and requirements that govern program implementation as well as to evaluate the ways they promote telework and develop forward-thinking approaches.

To help determine progress toward the statutory goals, we added or clarified questions so we could determine whether:

  • agencies have a telework policy in place;
  • agencies have defined eligibility to telework in their policy;
  • agencies are formally offering the opportunity to telework to eligible employees; and
  • the number of eligible employees actually teleworking is increasing.

The survey established and defined two categories of telework:

Core Telework: telework that occurs on a routine or regular basis away from the principal place of duty (e.g., at home, at a telework center, at an alternate location) one or more days per week.

Situational Telework: telework that occurs on an occasional, non-routine basis.

The survey also clearly established and defined two types of eligibility criteria:

Eligibility Criteria (job-related): An employee's job is eligible for telework if some or all of the duties of the job could be performed away from the principal place of duty.

Qualifying Criteria (employee-related): requirements an employee must meet to participate in a telework arrangement (e.g., performance rating of at least fully successful, no history of disciplinary actions).

The definitions were designed not only to refine our data collection, but also to encourage agencies to think about different structures for telework, and to recognize that either core or situational telework is appropriate for most jobs. We expect that by looking simultaneously at their job-related and their employee-related criteria, agencies will discover more telework opportunities for their employees. Appendix B, Table 1 provides individual agency data regarding participation in telework programs.