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The Status of Telework in the Federal Government 2004

IV. Data Collection and Results

Data Collection

In October 2003, OPM surveyed Federal agencies to determine the status of telework within the Federal Government. Seventy-four agencies with more than 1.7 million employees responded to the 2003 survey. Though 77 agencies responded in 2002 and 74 responded in 2003, the two data sets are comparable with regard to the Federal population. Four small agencies, with a total of 18 teleworkers, reported in 2002, but not 2003. Two small agencies, with a total of 18 teleworkers, reported in 2003, but not 2002. Two larger agencies which had reported independently in 2003, reported as parts of parent organizations in 2003. The new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported for the first time in 2003. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) reported separately in 2002, and as part of Commerce in 2003. Thus, changes from 2002-2003 can be used to evaluate overall progress of the Federal telework program. However, because 2003 was a year of transition, with many agencies moving all or part of their staffs into DHS, taking their teleworkers with them, caution must be used in evaluating the progress of specific agencies or comparing agencies with one another.

Telework Policies

Virtually all agencies have telework policies in place. Only one small agency, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, lacked a policy at the time of the report. OPM will assist that agency in developing a policy. The new Department of Homeland Security was, at the time of the report, still crafting its internal departmental policies, telework included. During the transitional period, agency components were using the policies they brought with them from their former organizations.

Each agency develops its own policy to fit its own mission and culture. Many of the agencies have developed eligibility criteria (characteristics of the position) and qualifying criteria (characteristics of the employee) for their telework programs.

  • Eligibility criteria. Thirty-six agencies specify occupations in which telework can or cannot occur. In addition, some agencies prohibit certain categories of employees from teleworking, including executives (12), managers (9), supervisors (9), support staff (12), temporary employees (16), employees on alternative work schedules (9), and part-time employees (10).
  • Qualifying criteria. Fifty-two agencies report that they require a minimum performance rating for teleworkers, 35 exclude employees with past disciplinary problems, and 25 require a minimum time in position.
  • Health issues. Forty-six provide for telework by employees with health problems.
  • Attendance issues. Forty-six agencies allow telework to be used with alternative work schedules, and 35 require teleworkers to adhere to core hours.

Writing a policy is an important first step, but a policy alone does not provide a viable telework program. As Congressman Frank R. Wolf stated forcefully in a 2001 letter to OPM, "What I do not want is for employees who are interested in a flexible work situation such as teleworking to have to wade through pages of policy to find out if they are even eligible for such an arrangement and then have to work their way through the system to obtain permission to participate."

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Policy Implementation

Agencies were asked about how they implement their policies, notify eligible employees, track telework programs, and help employees meet the technical and financial challenges of setting up home offices.

  • Formal notification. Thirty-four agencies, 46 percent of those reporting, have a procedure in place for giving employees formal notification of their eligibility to telework
  • Tracking systems. Fifty-four agencies require a telework agreement, 33 track telework through time and attendance reporting, and 27 track it through a management reporting system.
  • Equipment costs. Ten agencies purchase all equipment for teleworkers, and an additional 5 agencies reimburse employees for purchased equipment. Eighteen reported that they share costs with employees. Twenty-one provide excess or surplus equipment to teleworkers. Twenty-three reported that employees purchase all of their own equipment.
  • IT support. Fifty-eight agencies provide telephonic help desk support to teleworkers, 12 offer IT services at the teleworker's alternative work site, and 34 allow employees to bring equipment into the office for repair. Only 7 agencies reported offering no IT support to teleworkers.

Growth in Telework Participation

The number of telework-eligible and teleworking employees continues to grow. Seventy-four agencies with more than 1.7 million employees responded to the 2003 telework survey. The agencies reported a total of 751,844 employees (43 percent) are eligible to telework, compared with 625,313 employees (35 percent) in 2002 (see Appendix B, Table 1). This represents a gain of more than 126,531 telework-eligible employees or a gain of more than 20 percent. The number of eligible employees teleworking grew from 90,010 in 2002 to 102,921 in 2003, but the percentage of all eligible employees teleworking remained roughly stable, with more than 14 percent in 2002 and approximately 14 percent teleworking in 2003. Most noteworthy is that from the first telework survey in April 2001, there has been an overall increase of 93 percent in the number of employees teleworking, from 53,389 to 102,921 (Figure 1 below).

Figure 1-

Number of Total Employees Teleworking

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Core and Situational Telework

Core Teleworkers outnumber Situational Teleworkers (see figure 2 below). Of the total number of the employees who teleworked during 2003, 61 percent were reported as Core Teleworkers, and 39 percent were reported as Situational Teleworkers. Data suggest that situational teleworkers should not be perceived as infrequent teleworkers. Situational Teleworkers averaged 3 days a month compared to 6 days a month for core teleworkers. The high level of participation by Situational Teleworkers should facilitate their transition into Core Telework.

Figure 2-

Core & Situational Teleworkers

Location of Teleworkers

Most teleworkers are outside the Washington Metropolitan Area. According to survey data, 69 percent of teleworkers have their primary place of duty outside the greater Washington, DC, area; 31 percent are within the area. Though high traffic makes telework particularly appropriate in the DC area, it is by no means an "inside the Beltway" program.

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Health-Related Telework

Health-related telework continues to show a strong rate of increase. Telework arrangements support employees who need a reasonable accommodation for a disability or have a temporary health problem. In 2002, there were 1,749 employees who fell into these two categories. In 2003 that number grew to 3,849 (an increase of more than 120 percent). These numbers have been increasing rapidly since 2001. (See Figure 3 below)

Figure 3 - Health-Related Telework

Number of Employees Teleworking for Reasonable Accomodation & Temporary Medical Reasons

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Agencies with Less Than 2 Percent Teleworkers in 2002

House Report 107-575 on the Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Appropriations Act, 2003, included $500,000 to carry out a "Telecommuting Training Program to educate executive branch managers about the benefits and logistics of telecommuting." The conferees directed OPM "to target executive agencies where less than 2 percent of employees telecommute." OPM conducted a series of discussions with these agencies, and held a special forum for them on November 4, 2003. The 2003 survey found some improvement over 2002 data in several of these agencies, however several agencies reduced the number of eligible employees*. Further gains are expected as these agencies begin to make use of training and materials provided by OPM late in 2003.

Chart 1 - Agencies with less than 2 % eligible employees teleworking in 2002
Agency Name 2002 Number of Eligible Teleworkers 2002 Number of Employees Teleworking 2002 Percent of Eligible Employees Teleworking 2003 Number of Eligible Teleworkers 2003 - Number of Employees Teleworking 2003 -Percent of Eligible Employees Teleworking
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board 0 0 0% 31 0 0%
Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency 942 12 1% 939 59 6%
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board* 91 2 2% 4 4 100%
Department of State 17,450 243 1% 11,558 170 2%
Department of Veterans Affairs 102,967 1,377 1% 124,318 1,415 1%
Export-Import Bank of the U.S. 395 1 0% 420 1 0%
Federal Election Commission* 379 1 0% No Report    
Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board 100 0 0% 3 0 0%
Federal Trade Commission 0 0 0% 800 25 3%
Inter-American Foundation 48 1 2% 49 7 14%
International Boundary and Water Commission 125 0 0% 69 1 1%
Office of Administration* 100 1 1% No Report    
Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight** 115 1 1% No Report    
Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission 38 0 0 55 9 16%
Office of National Drug Control Policy 113 1 1% 109 4 4%
Office of Special Counsel 90 1 1% 83 14 17%
Peace Corps 788 1 0% No Report   0%
Postal Rate Commission 0 0 0% 6 6 100%
Small Business Administration 3,172 53 2% 3120 268 9%
Trade and Development Agency* 46 0 0% 0- 0 0%
Totals 126,959 1,695 1.3% 141,564 1,983 1.4%

* No Report in 2003
** Included in HUD in 2003

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Telework Centers

Telework centers provide unique benefits that working from home or other locations typically does not provide—freedom from the possible distractions of home-life, on-site technical support, additional telephone lines and high-speed and Internet access, fax machines, printers, copiers, and audio and video conferencing capabilities. Federal employees who use the centers report many success stories about how the centers are helping them improve the quality of their work lives, provide greater focus for their work assignments and increase their productivity, in addition to improving the quality of their personal and family lives, accommodating illnesses and disabilities, enabling them to defer plans to retire or resign, and helping them address area-wide and personal emergencies which might otherwise keep them from working at all. The centers are also used by private sector customers and provide many local community resources as well.

In 1999, the conference report accompanying Public Law 105-277, the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 1999, called for 20 specific Federal agencies to make at least $50,000 available annually to pay for employees' use of telework centers.

Chart 2 below provides a listing of the 20 agencies named in the Conference Report, as well as other agencies using the centers during FY 2002-2003. While overall revenues increased during FY

2003, usage declined by five percent. Fifteen of the 20 agencies mentioned in the conference report are using the centers, but eight of these did not spend up to the $50,000 threshold (see Chart 3 below). GSA has a number of plans to encourage greater telework center usage among agencies during FY 2004, including offering a 60-day free trial use period for new users.

Chart 2 - Federal Agency Telework Center Users
Agency FY2003 Users FY2002 Users Change Total Centers Users FY2003 Total Fees FY2002 Total Fees Change
Agriculture 49 58 -9 12 $98,000 $96,252 $1,748
Commerce 15 6 9 4 $20,318 $3,124 $17,194
Defense 168 187 -19 15 $304,066 $256,308 $47,758
Education 34 28 6 14 $71,139 $87,328 -$16,189
Energy 6 8 -2 3 $7,968 $12,368 -$4,400
EPA 3 3 0 4 $9,916 $11,344 -$1,428
FEMA* 1 1 0 1 $720 $416 $304
GSA 34 41 -7 11 $88,620 $97,045 -$8,425
HHS 32 20 12 10 $63,910 $32,384 $31,526
House of Representatives* 3 2 1 3 $5,763 $3,828 $1,935
HUD 1 1 0 1 $5,544 $5,544 0
Interior 4 5 -1 3 $6,496 $20,884 -$14,388
Justice 11 13 -2 4 $19,520 $17,544 $1,976
Labor 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
NRC* 1 1 0 1 $1,200 $150 $1,050
OGE* 2 2 0 1 $3,912 $4,848 -$936
OPM 10 12 -2 7 $32,678 $36,436 -$3,758
Postal Service 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
SBA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Social Security 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
State 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Transportation 45 56 -11 12 $66,382 $70,792 -$4,410
Treasury 13 13 0 9 $67,152 $62,208 $4,944
Veterans Affairs 3 2 1 2 $16,000 $6,800 $9,200
Grand Total 435 459 -24   $889,304 $825,603 $63,701

* These agencies are not covered by section 630(a) of Public law 105-277.

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Perceived Barriers to Telework

The most frequently reported barrier to telework in the 2003 survey was the nature of the agency work, followed by office coverage challenges, data security, management resistance, and funding for equipment and information technology (IT). Agencies reported having addressed these barriers in the following ways:

  • provided training to employees and managers on telework (23 agencies);
  • initiated marketing of telework through promotional materials (18 agencies);
  • undertook initiatives to gain top management support of telework (17 agencies);
  • established regular reporting mechanisms for tracking teleworkers (15 agencies); and
  • increased their budgets for IT support (11 agencies).

More detailed information on barriers to telework came directly from supervisors and managers who participated in a series of six focus groups in three cities. The focus groups, led by OPM psychologists not affiliated with the telework program, were designed to move beyond the vague concept of "management resistance" and explore the real obstacles managers might encounter as they sought to implement telework in their organizations. Commonly expressed concerns included the productivity and accountability of teleworkers, the need to address the IT technology requirements for supporting telework, the cost of supporting such arrangements, and supervisors' or fellow managers' lack of comfort with telework.

Managers were reluctant to say "no" to a request to telework, preferring if possible to give an employee a trial period as an objective test of his or her readiness for telework.