Human Capital:

Further Guidance, Assistance, and Coordination Can Improve Federal Telework Efforts

GAO-03-679: Published: Jul 18, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 2003.

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Telework--work done at a location other than a traditional office--has gained widespread attention over the past decade as a human capital flexibility offering various potential benefits to employers, employees, and society. Using such flexibilities as management tools can help the federal government address its human capital challenges. GAO did this study in response to a congressional request to assess the federal government's progress in implementing telework programs and to determine what else can be done to give federal employees the ability to telework under appropriate circumstances.

The statutory framework for federal telework requires agencies to take certain actions related to telework, provides agencies with tools for supporting telework, and provides both the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the General Services Administration (GSA) with lead roles and shared responsibilities for the federal telework initiative. Both agencies offer services and resources to support and encourage telework in the federal government. However, these agencies have not fully coordinated their telework efforts and have had difficulty in resolving their conflicting views on telework-related matters. As a consequence, agencies have not received consistent, inclusive, unambiguous support and guidance related to telework. After we discussed the issues created by the lack of coordination between GSA and OPM with both agencies, a GSA official then indicated that GSA and OPM expressed a new commitment to coordination. Such a commitment reflects a promising start for better assisting federal agencies in improved implementation of their telework programs. However, the key to success will be sustained efforts by both agencies to work together in assisting agencies and providing consistent and straightforward guidance, services, and resources on the governmentwide telework initiative. GAO identified 25 key practices in telework-related literature and guidelines as those that federal agencies should implement in developing telework programs and grouped these practices under seven categories. While the four selected executive agencies we reviewed--the Department of Education (Education), GSA, OPM, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)--have taken at least some steps to implement most of the key practices, only 7 of the 25 key practices, such as establishing a cross-functional project team and establishing an agencywide telework policy, had been fully implemented by all four agencies. Although some telework-related resources from GSA and OPM provide federal agencies with information on how to implement several of the key practices we identified, agencies may need additional guidance, guidelines, and/or individualized technical support to fully implement these practices.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Furthermore, to enable agencies to more effectively implement the key practices that we identified as those that should be used for successful implementation of federal telework programs, the Administrator, GSA, and the Director, OPM, should use their lead roles in the federal telework initiative to assist agencies in implementing these practices. Using the key telework practices, GSA and OPM should identify areas where more information about implementation of the practices may be needed and provide agencies with the additional guidance, guidelines, and/or individualized technical support necessary to assist them in implementing those practices that are still in need of attention. Additionally, OPM agreed with a recommendation included in our recent report for OPM to serve as a clearinghouse in sharing and distributing information about the broad range of human capital flexibilities available to federal agencies. In implementing that recommendation, OPM should include information about telework, because it is such a flexibility. To provide agencies with the capabilities to effectively implement telework, both GSA and OPM should continue to monitor agencies' telework programs and align their efforts with areas that are still in need of attention.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA and OPM sent the key practices to agency telework coordinators recommending they employ them as a self-assessment tool for telework programs using GAO's analytical framework. By 2004, OPM included GAO-03-679 in federal agency manager and employee on-line training as a resource on successful telework program characteristics. The courses referred to key practices GAO identified as 'characteristics of successful telework programs' under the topic 'Success Factors for Effective Telework' and both were made available at www.usalearning.gov including links to GAO's report. These courses are now available for free at www.telework.gov--the OPM/GSA maintained interagency telework site; they still include the references to GAO's findings. Also, OPM told us that in September 2006, in response to requirements in the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan, it issued a new Guide to Telework in the Federal Government and that, unlike the earlier guide, it was specifically geared toward employees and managers and laid out successful teleworking elements that align with the telework practices contained in GAO's report (see http://www.telework.gov/documents/Guide.asp.) This guide includes information on 19 of the 25 practices we identified and its references page lists and hyperlinks to GAO-03-679. OPM and GSA also took steps to identify areas where more implementation information on the practices may be needed and to provide additional guidance, guidelines, and/or individualized technical support to assist agencies in implementing practices still in need of attention. That is, in addition to many instances after GAO-03-679 was issued when OPM and/or GSA provided guidance and guidelines to agencies, OPM made individual agency on-site visits to provide guidance/technical support those agencies needed. GSA and OPM have been monitoring telework at agencies and aligning efforts with areas still needing attention. OPM told us that areas at agencies still needing attention are identified by its annual telework survey. It also said that quarterly telework coordinator meeting agendas are based on issues the survey and agencies identify. It gave examples of such issues including clarifying new locality pay regulations, assistive technology for handicapped employees, and guidance on and assistance with the revised survey. Also, OPM listed 4 broad telework areas it was addressing: 1) working with military/intelligence communities to address security concerns and making telework centers into more secure environments; 2) considering how to best address manager resistance with a training initiative; 3) working towards centralized, automated data gathering to enable OPM to better understand the scale of governmentwide telework use, and 4) redesigning www.telework.gov to better meet the needs of its multiple audiences. For the first 3 of these, OPM's 2005 survey collected at least some relevant data. In its 2005 survey report, OPM said "OPM and GSA continue to work together to advance the telework initiative in the Federal Government and are using the results of this Survey to assist agencies as they expand their telework programs." Also, OPM told us it is serving as a clearinghouse such as the one our recommendation referred to and, as part of this, included information on telework. It said it has done this by redesigned its Web page a year ago (www.opm.gov/worklife) to better provide information on telework and other human capital flexibilities related to worklife programs and policies and that more telework information is available at www.opm.gov/hcaaf_resource_center/careerpatterns under its Career Patterns Initiative. These sites do include several types of telework information, including a link to www.telework.gov. Moreover, GSA also has an "Alternative Officing Information Clearinghouse" site on its Web site, which includes telework information as part of the "alternative officing" concept.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, and the Director, OPM, should ensure that the offices in their agencies with responsibilities for the governmentwide telework initiative improve coordination of their efforts to provide federal agencies with consistent, inclusive, unambiguous support and guidance related to telework. To do so, they should clearly delineate their responsibilities for this initiative and work together to resolve existing areas of difference. The Memorandum of Understanding that the agencies are considering could be very helpful in making progress on this key issue.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Administrator, General Services Administration, and the Director, Office of Personnel Management, jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding related to their respective roles in the federal telework initiative. This Memorandum, dated October 7, 2003, delineates GSA's and OPM's respective responsibilities for the telework initiative and describes their agreement "to work collaboratively to ensure that their [telework] efforts are fully coordinated and in combination provide agencies the assistance they need."

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, and the Director, OPM, should ensure that the offices in their agencies with responsibilities for the governmentwide telework initiative improve coordination of their efforts to provide federal agencies with consistent, inclusive, unambiguous support and guidance related to telework. To do so, they should clearly delineate their responsibilities for this initiative and work together to resolve existing areas of difference. The Memorandum of Understanding that the agencies are considering could be very helpful in making progress on this key issue.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Administrator, General Services Administration, and the Director, Office of Personnel Management, jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding related to their respective roles in the federal telework initiative. This Memorandum, dated October 7, 2003, delineates GSA's and OPM's respective responsibilities for the telework initiative and describes their agreement "to work collaboratively to ensure that their [telework] efforts are fully coordinated and in combination provide agencies the assistance they need."

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, should work with Congress to determine what was meant by the phrase "GSA telecommunication center" in Section 314, Division F, title III of Pub. L. No. 108-7 and whether this provision is in conflict with the provision contained in 40 U.S.C. 587(d)(2). Once these determinations are made, GSA should issue guidance to the relevant agencies to clarify these provisions and explain the impact of these laws on agencies' telework programs.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The General Services Administration (GSA) provided documentation that GSA, in working with the Interior Subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, confirmed that the phrase "telecommunications centers' in Section 314 did refer to GSA telework centers. The documentation also stated that the Committees acknowledged that this provision conflicted with the language in 40 U.S.C. 587 (d)(2) and they would consider eliminating this restriction in future appropriations acts. If the determination was made to continue the restriction; however, the documentation said that the language in Section 314 would be amended to specifically refer to the GSA telework centers to remove any confusion. Although the restriction was still included in the fiscal year 2004 appropriations act without clarification of the meaning of "GSA telecommunication center", Congress did not include this funding restriction in any fiscal year 2005 or 2006 appropriations acts.

    Recommendation: Furthermore, to enable agencies to more effectively implement the key practices that we identified as those that should be used for successful implementation of federal telework programs, the Administrator, GSA, and the Director, OPM, should use their lead roles in the federal telework initiative to assist agencies in implementing these practices. Using the key telework practices, GSA and OPM should identify areas where more information about implementation of the practices may be needed and provide agencies with the additional guidance, guidelines, and/or individualized technical support necessary to assist them in implementing those practices that are still in need of attention. Additionally, OPM agreed with a recommendation included in our recent report for OPM to serve as a clearinghouse in sharing and distributing information about the broad range of human capital flexibilities available to federal agencies. In implementing that recommendation, OPM should include information about telework, because it is such a flexibility. To provide agencies with the capabilities to effectively implement telework, both GSA and OPM should continue to monitor agencies' telework programs and align their efforts with areas that are still in need of attention.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA and OPM have sent the key practices to agency telework coordinators recommending the coordinators employ the key practices as a self-assessment tool for their telework programs, using the GAO analytical framework. In addition, by 2004, OPM had included GAO-03-679 in on-line training for both agency managers and employees throughout the federal government as a resource on the characteristics of successful telework programs. The courses directly referred to the key practices GAO identified as 'characteristics of successful telework programs' under the topic 'Success Factors for Effective Telework.' Both of these courses were made available at www.usalearning.gov (now www.golearn.gov) and included Internet links to GAO's report. These courses are now available for free through www.telework.gov--the interagency telework site maintained by OPM and GSA. The courses still include the references to GAO's findings. In its response to our questions to OPM regarding the open recommendations, OPM said that "In September 2006, in response to requirements in the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan, OPM issued a new Guide to Telework in the Federal Government. . . Unlike the earlier guide, this new version is specifically geared towards employees and managers, and lays out elements of successful teleworking that are in alignment with the telework practices contained in the GAO report (see http://www.telework.gov/documents/Guide.asp.)" Indeed, this Guide includes GAO-03-679 in its References list, with a hyperlink to GAO's report. In addition, OPM and GSA have taken steps to identify areas where more information about implementation of the practices may be needed and to provide agencies with the additional guidance, guidelines, and/or individualized technical support necessary to assist them in implementing those practices that are still in need of attention. In this regard, in addition to the numerous instances after GAO-03-679 was issued where one or both of these two agencies provided telework guidance or guidelines to federal government agencies, OPM has made on-site visits to individual agencies to provide guidance and technical support that those agencies needed. GSA and OPM have been monitoring agencies' telework programs and aligning efforts with areas that are still in need of attention. In OPM's response to our questions regarding the open recommendations, OPM said that telework areas at agencies still in need of attention are identified through its annual telework survey. OPM said that agendas for the quarterly telework coordinator meetings are based on issues identified by the survey and by agencies. It listed examples of such issues, including clarification of new locality pay regulations, available assistive technology for handicapped employees, and guidance and assistance with the revised telework survey. In addition, OPM listed four broad areas regarding telework that it was addressing: 1) working with the military and intelligence communities to address security concerns and make telework centers into more secure environments; 2) considering how to best address manager resistance through a training initiative; 3) working towards centralized, automated data gathering that will enable OPM to better understand the scale of government-wide telework use; and 4) redesigning telework.gov to better meet the needs of its multiple audiences--the first three for which OPM's 2005 telework survey collected at least some relevant data. In its 2005 survey report, OPM said "OPM and GSA continue to work together to advance the telework initiative in the Federal Government and are using the results of this Survey to assist agencies as they expand their telework programs.

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