Agency Telework Methodologies:

Departments of Commerce, Justice, State, the Small Business Administration, and the Securities and Exchange Commission

GAO-05-1055R: Published: Sep 27, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2005.

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Telecommuting, or telework--meaning work that is performed at an employee's home or at a work location other than a traditional office--has gained widespread attention over the past decade in both the public and private sectors, offering a variety of potential benefits to employers, employees, and society. On July 29, 2005, we briefed Congress on the results of our review of telework methodologies at the Departments of Commerce (DOC), Justice (DOJ), State, the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This report transmits the information provided during that briefing. Specifically, Congress had asked us to provide information on and analysis of the methodology that each of the five agencies used to define employees eligible to telecommute, the methods each agency used to make telecommuting opportunities available to eligible employees and what those opportunities are, and how each agency defines and measures telecommuting participation rates.

We found that at DOC, DOJ, and State, groups of employees are not eligible to telework because of their positions, while SEC and SBA make all positions eligible. For example, at State, employees are excluded if they have to handle classified information in their positions. All five agencies exclude individual employees from teleworking on the basis of other criteria, such as employee performance. However, when the agencies recently reported the total number of employees who are eligible to telework, they did not subtract the number of individuals who were excluded on the basis of these criteria. All five agencies used at least some active methods to make telework opportunities available to employees who were eligible. These methods ranged from sending each eligible employee an individual notification to sending all employees a broadcast message from the agency head. We could not confirm, however, whether all of the units in two of the agencies did more than post telework information on their internal Web sites. None of the agencies could report the actual number of employees who telework and how often they do so because none had fully implemented the capability to track this through their time and attendance systems, although DOC and DOJ are implementing such a system. Instead, DOJ has reported the number of participants based on a survey of supervisors who are expected to track teleworkers; the other four agencies have reported the number of participants based on the number of employees with signed telework agreements in place. At DOC, however, these agreements do not include ad hoc teleworkers because they are not required to have telework agreements. Some of the agencies had additional initiatives under way. For example, SBA and DOC required that employees be trained before participating. SEC and DOJ officials said that the agencies were currently working to address managerial resistance to participation by providing supervisors and managers with awareness training to help them see how telework can work. Because of the lack of consistency among the five agencies with regard to how they determine eligibility to telework, make opportunities available, and measure employee participation, Congress should determine ways to promote more consistent definitions and measures related to telework. In addition, Congress should continue to consider ways to encourage agencies to promote telework.

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