Incomplete data, missing deadlines hinder agencies' telework goals

Tuesday - 7/2/2013, 3:19pm EDT

Yvonne Jones, director of strategic issues, Government Accountability Office on "In Depth" with Francis Rose

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The Office of Personnel Management needs to beef up its role in helping agencies set goals for increasing telework, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a new report.

Doing so will assist OPM in reporting more complete data in its annual report to Congress on federal telework, GAO auditors wrote.

Under the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, agencies are required to take new steps to increase the number of employees who telework — and OPM is required to report to Congress on agencies' goals for doing so.

But GAO found many new mandated reporting requirements went unmet in OPM's 2012 report to Congress, the first since the telework law went into effect.

About 25 percent of the eligible workforce — or 168,558 employees — reported teleworking in 2011, according to OPM's most recent report. That was more than double the number of employees who did so in 2009.

But OPM's report didn't necessarily tell the whole story, GAO found. In fact, it may have under-reported the frequency of federal telework because agencies lack the systems to fully track and report telework use and OPM hasn't set hard deadlines for agencies to report complete data.

Incomplete data plagues efforts

In its 2012 report, OPM only partially met two of the seven new reporting requirements required by the 2010 law, GAO found.

OPM reported the number of feds who teleworked and how often, according to the GAO report and also partially compiled some best practices for agency telework programs.

But OPM did not provide data on the goals agencies set to increase telework at their agencies and how their telework participation rate compared to their goals, as well as a handful of other measures.

It turns out OPM was hindered by many agencies' failure to fully document their telework activity and goals. OPM told GAO some agencies are not yet "ready or able to set participation goals," according to the report.

For example, 31 percent of agencies have not established any participation goals at all, according to GAO, while another 22 percent provided OPM with a descriptive goal (but no hard numbers).

OPM told GAO it has since collected agency participation goals and will report on them in the next report to Congress.

Lack of deadlines could hinder progress

GAO recommended OPM assist those agencies that haven't yet been able to provide data on their telework goals. OPM should also require agencies to provide a date-certain by which they will be able to do so, "including each agency's timetable for complete reporting and the status of action steps and milestones they established to gauge progress," the report stated.

With so many agencies lacking the systems to collect reliable telework data, establishing deadlines is important, GAO said.

"Without a timetable for completion and agreement of stakeholders affected by this strategy, there is no assurance OPM's efforts will achieve the telework data collection system it needs or that an alternative collection and reporting strategy will be developed," the report sated.

OPM should also take a stab at collecting information from agencies on reported cost-savings from telework (as well as how agencies verify that data). The 2010 law didn't specifically require agencies to collect that data, but some agencies have that capability, GAO said.

Finally, OPM should work with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to begin work on an automated tracking system to track teleworkers at agencies.

OPM said an initiative like that is already underway. The agency is working to create a digital system for tracking the use of telework using time-and-attendance data maintained by agency payroll processors.

However, once again, deadlines may pose a problem for OPM's ambitions.

"No completion date for the project has been established and OPM reports that a timetable for completion is not entirely under its control," the report stated. That's because some agencies don't yet have automated time-and-attendance systems "and may not have funding available to meet the completion date OPM may request."

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