More guidance needed for emergency telework plans

Sunday - 7/24/2011, 6:23pm EDT

Agencies need more "coordinated guidance" when it comes to incorporating telework into their emergency planning efforts, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

While the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 required agencies to include telework policies in their continuity of operation plans, GAO found agencies lack a definition of what "inclusion" means. The government watchdog also said there is not a "cohesive set of practices that agencies could use to achieve this type of incorporation."

The Office of Personnel Management, the General Services Administration, FEMA, and the Federal Protective Service are the lead agencies responsible for developing telework and telework-related emergency guidance. While these agencies have issued regulations, directives, and other documents with information on developing emergency telework plans, GAO said the guidance is often packaged within larger documents, making it harder to find. It also said agencies need to do a better job cross-referencing telework information that could help agencies.

While 57 of 79 agencies told OPM in a 2009 survey that telework had been integrated into their emergency preparedness/COOP plans, the GAO report pointed out a flaw with the question and recommended OPM improve its data collection process.

"OPM's survey instrument does not describe what OPM means by ‘integrating' telework into emergency or continuity planning and operations … This lack of a definition or description calls into question the reliability of the survey results for assessing agencies' progress."

GAO also said OPM and the other lead telework agencies need to do a better job incorporating other key players that make telework possible, like the IT community.

"Despite the importance of agency IT capacity to support telework during emergencies, OPM and GSA did not work together, as outlined in their MOU [memorandum of understanding], to reach out to the CIO community regarding potential agency capacity limitations," the GAO report said in reference to the updated dismissal guide released by OPM in December. "At the time of development of the new policy, each of the OPM and GSA officials responsible for coordinating on the MOU did not recognize the opportunity to involve the CIO community."

GAO made multiple recommendations to OPM including, developing a "definition and cohesive set of practices for incorporating telework into emergency and continuity planning" and "establish[ing] an interagency coordination process for guidance."

OPM agreed with GAO's recommendations.