Emergency Preparedness:

Agencies Need Coordinated Guidance on Incorporating Telework into Emergency and Continuity Planning

GAO-11-628: Published: Jul 22, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 22, 2011.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Yvonne D. Jones
(202) 512-6543
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

When historic snowstorms forced lengthy closings of federal offices in the National Capital Region in 2010, thousands of employees continued to work from their homes, making clear the potential of telework in mitigating the effects of emergencies. GAO was asked to (1) describe the guidance lead agencies have issued pertaining to the use of telework during emergencies; (2) describe Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other assessments related to agencies' incorporation of telework into emergency or continuity planning, and the extent to which the lead agencies have provided definitions and practices to support agency planning; and (3) assess the extent to which OPM and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinated with other agencies on recent guidance documents. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed relevant statutes, regulations, guidance documents, and OPM's telework survey methodology, and interviewed key officials of agencies providing telework and telework-related emergency guidance.

OPM, the General Services Administration (GSA), FEMA, and the Federal Protective Service (FPS) offer a host of telework and telework-related emergency guidance. These lead agencies provide advice to other federal agencies through regulations, directives, guides, bulletins, and other documents. Several of these guidance documents have expanded significantly in recent years, broadening the scope of the topics that they address and describing broader responsibilities for the lead agencies. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires agencies to incorporate telework policies into their continuity of operations plans, but recent OPM reviews and other agency reports identify potential problems agencies may face in achieving this incorporation in various operational areas. GAO's review of the OPM, GSA, FEMA, and FPS governmentwide guidance on telework or telework-related emergency planning found that none of the documents provide a definition of what constitutes incorporating telework into continuity and emergency planning or a cohesive set of practices that agencies could use to achieve this type of incorporation. Additionally, this lack of a definition or description calls into question the reliability of the results of a survey OPM annually conducts to assess agencies' progress. In reviewing several lead-agency guidance documents, GAO found a number of practices, in areas such as information technology (IT) infrastructure and testing, that could help agencies incorporate telework in aspects of their continuity or emergency planning. However, because the practices are scattered among various documents principally concerned with other matters, it would be difficult for an agency to use these practices to help achieve telework incorporation and assess its progress. Both OPM and FEMA coordinated the development of their recent guidance. OPM updated its Washington, D.C., area dismissal and closure procedures to introduce "unscheduled telework," a new option for federal employees to telework when emergencies disrupt commuting. While developing these procedures, OPM officials reported coordinating with GSA, agency human-capital officials, FEMA, unions, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, among others. However, OPM and GSA did not work together to reach out to agency chief information officers regarding potential agency capacity limitations. Consequently, officials did not offer any governmentwide guidance on ways to address IT infrastructure limitations or provide direct assistance to agencies regarding the adequacy of their IT infrastructure. In February 2011, FEMA provided agencies with more-detailed guidance for developing continuity plans. According to FEMA officials, in 2010 they shared a draft of the guidance with the interagency community, including both continuity coordinators and continuity planners, and GSA. GAO recommends that OPM consult with other lead agencies to develop a definition and cohesive set of practices for incorporating telework into emergency and continuity planning; improve its related data collection; and establish an interagency coordination process for guidance. OPM concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • 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: To enhance the potential use of telework during emergencies, the Director of OPM, in consultation with agencies responsible for key policy areas specified under the Telework Act and with other agencies providing governmentwide guidance on emergency preparedness, such as FPS, should develop (1) a definition of what constitutes incorporating telework in emergency and continuity plans and (2) a cohesive set of practices that agencies should implement to achieve successful incorporation.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: With OPM input, the Federal Emergency Management Agency published a revised Federal Continuity Directive 1 in October 2012 detailing new policies and clarifications to give direction for the further development of continuity plans and programs for agencies. The document provides a definition of what constitutes incorporating telework into emergency and continuity plans and outlines a number of practices to achieve successful incorporation, including planning, training, IT infrastructure, and data collection. Such a definition and set of practices will better position agencies to implement the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 and effectively utilize telework during emergencies.

    Recommendation: To enhance the potential use of telework during emergencies, the Director of OPM, in consultation with agencies responsible for key policy areas specified under the Telework Act and with other agencies providing governmentwide guidance on emergency preparedness, such as FPS, should revise OPM's data-collection methodology to ensure agencies and OPM report reliable results on the extent to which agencies have incorporated telework into their emergency and continuity planning and operations.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Open

    Comments: OPM revised the 2012 data call to collect additional information on the extent to which agencies have incorporated telework into their emergency and continuity planning and operations. OPM has also added two additional questions to the 2013 data call, drawing upon the set of practices to achieve successful incorporation of telework in continuity plans contained in Federal Continuity Directive 1. We have reached out to OPM and are waiting for updated data requested at that time. We anticipate receiving this information in April 2014.

    Recommendation: To enhance the potential use of telework during emergencies, the Director of OPM, in consultation with agencies responsible for key policy areas specified under the Telework Act and with other agencies providing governmentwide guidance on emergency preparedness, such as FPS, should establish an interagency coordination process among OPM, FEMA, FPS, GSA, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to ensure all major areas of agency operations are considered when OPM issues new or updated guidance related to using telework during emergencies.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Open

    Comments: OPM has taken steps to implement the recommendation by having the agencies responsible for telework policy and support agree to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish such an interagency process. OPM expects all parties to the agreement will have reached final agreement by April 31, 2014.The draft MOU establishes an interagency working group, including OPM, FEMA, FPS, GSA, and NARA, to ensure all major areas of agency operations are considered and coordinated when OPM issues new or updated guidance related to telework during emergencies. The members of the group will meet quarterly. The MOU does not specify areas of policy responsibility for each agency member of the interagency group. For example, as specified under the Telework Act, GSA is responsible for policy and policy guidance in the areas of telework centers, travel, technology, equipment and dependent care. The lack of provisions in the draft MOU to establish working group members' responsibilities for policy and policy guidance in areas of telework interagency coordination and OPM's inclination to keep its current vetting system in place does not support that OPM has made sufficient progress to close this recommendation as implemented. OPM should work with the members of the interagency group to further establish the specific roles and responsibilities of its members to ensure all major areas of agency operations are considered in the interagency review process.

    Jul 16, 2014

    Jun 27, 2014

    Jun 24, 2014

    Jun 23, 2014

    Jun 18, 2014

    Jun 16, 2014

    Jun 11, 2014

    Jun 10, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here