Telework deadline passes - are you eligible?

Wednesday - 6/8/2011, 7:28am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Tuesday marked the end of the beginning to improve telework across the government.

That is how the Office of Personnel Management coined its six-month update on implementing the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. President Obama signed the legislation into law Dec. 9.

"After today, the way we've been encouraging all agencies to approach this is you should really start having conversations essentially between supervisors and employees to say now that we know who is eligible to telework, we can get a sense of how best to use telework to deliver results and to improve continuity of operations, employee satisfaction and all the things telework can potentially do if it's done well," said Justin Johnson, OPM's deputy chief of staff, during a teleconference with reporters Tuesday.

The law required agencies to develop a telework policy, assign a senior official to be in charge of telework, determine which employees are eligible to telework and tell those employees in writing.

Johnson said all the agencies have met the deadlines "as far as we can tell."

"For a lot of agencies that was pretty easy. But for others it required a lot of going back and taking a fresh look at their telework policies," he said. "OPM actually began helping agencies revamp their telework policies in 2009. So some of them had already heard from us and taken some advice from our office of governmentwide policy folks."

Meanwhile, a new survey by the Telework Exchange and Juniper finds similar responses from 354 civilian and defense agency employees. The survey found 86 percent of the respondents say they established a telework policy, 84 percent say they determined employee eligibility and 76 percent say they notified employees of their eligibility.

"The law, all it really does is create this very structured framework but now it's up to us to really implement it well," Johnson said. "OPM, through this network of telework managing officers, is going to be doing everything we can to provide tools and resources so that agencies implement the concepts in the Telework Enhancement Act well."

Among those tools are new training programs for managers and employees on telework. Johnson said the modules should be available on Telework.gov by early fiscal 2012.

OPM has led some training already, bringing together the telework managing officer to hear from a panel of government experts about how they make telecommuting work at their agencies.

"By having a single point of contact helps us to be in touch with the right people," he said. "They know who to contact here as well. We have one person doing high level policy work, one who does training and one who does measuring and metrics. It helps to build a tight network of people who can answer questions and distribute consistent information so that over time we get agencies on a good footing across government."

OPM and the General Services Administration also are leading an interagency team to develop governmentwide metrics for telework implementation.

These metrics will lead to questions in a report OPM must send to Congress by next June detailing how agencies are implementing the law.

The Telework Exchange and Juniper survey found the law has had an impact on agencies, 86 percent saying their agency increased how many employees are teleworking.

The survey also found that 32 percent of the employees telework either regularly or situationally.

This is much larger than what OPM found in its 2010 report on telework. Agencies told OPM that only 6 percent of their workforce telecommutes.

Johnson couldn't speak to the disparity between the Telework Exchange survey and OPM's survey, but did say the lack of a standard definition of telework could be a reason why the number of feds who telework is low.

He also said OPM has heard about many informal agreements for telework, which the Telework Enhancement Act no longer allows for, instead requiring formal written agreements between managers and employees.

The next deadline for agencies is July 28 when they must update technology purchasing policies to make telework a part of their regulations. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance in April for agencies to develop policies for purchasing technology equipment and services to promote telework.

The Telework Exchange and Juniper survey found 30 percent of the respondents said they have updated these policies.

Johnson said once employees know if they are eligible or not, agencies can use telework as a tool to meet their missions and save money.