OPM tests letting feds work without a schedule

Wednesday - 5/5/2010, 7:50am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

In the effort to attract and retain a new generation of federal workers, what can the federal government offer beyond a steady paycheck and good fringe benefits?

That was the main question that the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management and the Federal Workforce sought to answer in a Tuesday hearing on work-life programs.

Senator Daniel Akaka (D.-Hawaii), who chairs the subcommittee, says American workers in general are feeling the tug of family, time and money.

In addition, almost 50 percent of the Federal workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. Younger workers may have different work expectations than previous generations and may value workplace flexibility more than traditional fringe benefits. The Federal government needs to adapt, just as the private sector has, to attract and retain the next generation of Federal workers. Work-life programs help agencies compete in the marketplace. Offering our employees options - like flexible schedules, the ability to telework, and access to wellness programs - improves employees' quality of life and increases productivity.

To be sure, the subcommittee, which is part of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee , discussed at length work-life initiatives like expanded teleworking, and wellness program, to provide more incentives to those contemplating a federal career.

But most of the attention at the hearing centered on the Office of Personnel Management's new "Results Only Work Environment", or ROWE, pilot program. The program was announced last month, but yesterday, Jonathan Foley, senior advisor to OPM Director John Berry, revealed for the first time some of the finer details of the new pilot program, also known as the workforce flexibility initiative.

Nearly four hundred OPM employees ranging from retirement and benefits claims processors to policy makers, including union and non-union employees, are in the pilot and were selected to represent the whole spectrum of positions available in the Federal government. Approximately half of the participating employees are based in Boyers, Pennsylvania, and the other half are based in Washington, D.C. OPM components involved include Retirement and Benefits, HR Solutions, Communications, and the Director's Office. In general, ROWE allows employees to work whenever they want and wherever they want, as long as the work gets done. Managers are expected to manage for results rather than process. Employees are trusted to get the work done. This is a shift in culture from permission granting (e.g., granting leave, permission to telework, etc.) to performance guiding. A major principle of the project is that all employees in a participating group are included in the pilot without exception. ROWE is not a perk given to some employees and not to others. It is a management strategy that is applied to all members of a coherent work team. Employees who must be physically present to do their jobs now must be physically present when working in ROWE. Remember the guiding principle: "as long as the work gets done."

In his written testimony, Foley says two teams of contractors have been hired to help set up the ROWE project. One of the teams includes Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, authors of a book that first proposed the workforce flexibility initiative, and has become a favorite of OPM Director Berry. They've been around both OPM offices here in D.C. and in Pennsylvania doing prep work. The Rowe program begins in earnest in June, and continues through the end of the year. Deloitte has been retained to independently evaluate the program beginning in July, and will be on the lookout for its effect on employee performance and morale.

A final report on OPM's ROWE pilot program is expected in February 2011. Foley also testified that a final report on teleworking is expected to be released by OPM next month.

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Related link:

Senate HSGAC: "Work-Life Programs: Attracting, Retaining and Empowering the Federal Workforce" hearing website

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