Even as thousands of individuals recognize Telework Week and pledge to work-from-home to draw attention to the benefits – and federal requirements – for increased telework, there is still a long way to go in many federal agencies. While steady progress has been made to increase the number of federal teleworkers under the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, some government agencies need to ramp up their implementation rates to meet designated goals, according to a recent survey.
The Agriculture Department, General Services Administration and Patent and Trademark Office have been the most successful at implementing improved telework policies among at least 10 departments responding to a survey conducted in September 2011, but only recently made public. The Patent and Trademark Office in particular was identified as having 40 percent of all work hours completed as telework.
Several agencies — including the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services — have found they have a high percentage of employees available for telework, yet a relatively small number of hours are performed through telework.
One reason may be eligibility. Approximately 70% (139,228) of all DHS positions (198,898) are not eligible to telework, including CBP Officers, Transportation Security Officers, Secret Service Agents and others who are required to perform onsite activities. Still, the DHS has 59,670 employees (30 percent) who are eligible for telework, yet only 3,280 (.016 percent) telework, according to a memo. The memo states the telework rates at the DHS and the Treasury Department are "abysmally low." Fifty-three percent of positions at Treasury are ineligible for telework and only 1 percent of work hours are completed via telework.
“The abysmal telework performance is inexplicable in light of the large number of DHS office positions, and could prove to be a threat to national security if the DHS is unable to implement a Continuity of Operations Plan because its employees are unaccustomed to telework,” the memo stated.
At the Department of Veteran Affairs, 87.5 percent of employees are ineligible for telework and the department does not track how many employees telework. The Department of Veteran Affairs recently came under fire as the American Federation of Government Employees Local 17 President Bill Preston accused Board of Veterans’ Appeals leader Steve Keller of imposing a cap on the number of attorneys allowed to telework, in letters to agency leaders and lawmakers.
"There is no excuse for discouraging telework participation, either by slow implementation or disincentives, such as additional work requirements for those who telework," said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), one of the sponsors of the Telework Enhancement Act.
The Department of Energy also did not collect telework data for this survey and the departments of Transportation, Justice and Housing and Urban Development refused to participate in the survey, according to the memo.