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Another Reason Teleworking Works

By Ed O'Keefe

Administration officials regularly use buzzwords and talking points whenever they make public appearances, in an effort to drive home the message of the day or the president's priorities. These days, most Cabinet secretaries manage to reference the goodness of the economic stimulus program, but they're all about teleworking at the Office of Personnel Management.

John Berry has repeatedly expressed support for teleworking during his short tenure as OPM director. The federal government's human resources chief recently told lawmakers that he will meet with teleoworking specialists to develop government-wide recommendations and then instruct government agencies to submit updated plans.

The Eye -- who frequently teleworks from various locations -- noticed that the "telework works" message found itself into a very serious hearing yesterday afternoon about the the Department of Homeland Security's use of protective masks during the swine flu outbreak. OPM Associate Director Nancy H. Kichak told lawmakers that teleworking could help ensure the health and safety of federal employees and the continuity of government.

"Employees who telework regularly and effectively under normal circumstances are well positioned to continue to work from home during any type of emergency," she told the subcommittee. "Our pandemic planning provides that employees who are not currently teleworking certainly may be able to telework during an emergency. However, experienced teleworkers have the necessary equipment, computer connectivity, and practice working from a remote location that will enable them to continue critical work during an emergency."

So add public health, national security and continuity of government to a growing list of reasons why federal employees (and your trusty blogger) should be allowed to work from home!

Statement of Nancy H. Kichak, Associate Director for Strategic Human Resources Policy U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Before the

Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

"Protecting the Protectors: An Assessment of Front-Line Federal Workers in Response to the Swine Flu (H1N1) Outbreak"

May 14, 2009

Chairman Lynch, Ranking Member Chaffetz, and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for including the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in your discussion of this important topic. I would like to share with you our efforts to ensure the Federal Government is prepared to meet the human resources management challenges posed by the recent H1N1 flu outbreak, as well as any future pandemic health crisis.

Our essential function in this regard is to provide critical human resources services to ensure the Federal Government has the civilian workforce it needs to continue essential missions in an emergency. These include emergency staffing authorities, leave flexibilities, evacuation payments, telework and flexible working arrangements.

We are continuously preparing for an influenza pandemic by developing and updating comprehensive human resources guidance and conducting briefings for Federal human resources specialists, as well as “town-hall” meetings for employees at numerous Federal agencies.

It is not possible to overstate my concern -- and that of OPM Director John Berry -- that we do everything necessary to protect the well-being of all Federal employees. However, we at OPM do not have the expertise to make judgments about the efficacy and appropriateness of certain medications and protective devices to front line workers. Therefore, we have tried to keep Federal agencies apprised of the latest expert advice on these issues. For example, at the H1N1 Human Resources Readiness Forum we hosted last Friday, we made available representatives of the CDC, OSHA, and the Federal Occupational Health Service in the Department of Health and Human Services to answer questions about personal protective measures.

The forum focused on pandemic influenza readiness for Human Resources Directors, Federal employee union leaders, and other interested parties. OPM and other panelists answered the questions that weigh most heavily on the minds of managers and employees when they think about how a pandemic health crisis will affect them.

One tool that can be an extremely useful in coping with a pandemic health crises is telework. It can help mitigate the spread of influenza by promoting social distancing while allowing the critical work of the nation to continue.

OPM Director John Berry recently announced a new initiative that we hope will help agencies ramp up their telework readiness. This initiative is driven not only by Director Berry’s belief in the value of work/life programs generally, but more specifically in the importance of telework as a tool for emergency planning.

Under the Director’s telework initiative we will convene an advisory group of telework program managers to formulate standards for agency telework policies which we have asked agencies to submit to OPM for our review. Each agency has been asked to appoint a Telework Managing Officer and to ensure their existing appeals process is transparent to employees.. Finally, we will work with Congress to assure the provision of high-quality, broadly-accessible telework training that will provide the baseline everyone needs to achieve success.

With implementation of this initiative, we believe we will see an improvement in the consistency and quality of telework policies and programs and an increase in the number of employees teleworking.

Employees who telework regularly and effectively under normal circumstances are well positioned to continue to work from home during any type of emergency Our pandemic planning provides that employees who are not currently teleworking certainly may be able to telework during an emergency. However experienced teleworkers have the necessary equipment, computer connectivity, and practice working from a remote location that will enable them to continue critical work during an emergency

The current flu outbreak reminds us we must always be prepared to take care of our employees while continuing to meet the needs of the nation. Federal agencies need to ensure their pandemic plans are up to date. They should make sure they have telework agreements with as many telework-eligible employees as possible and should test employees’ ability to access agency networks from home, as well as their procedures for communicating with employees who are teleworking. OPM stands ready to provide guidance and support.

Thank you again for inviting me here today. I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.

By Ed O'Keefe  | May 15, 2009; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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Comments

I don't like telemarketers calling me watch funny videos http://www.frizle.com

Posted by: roverfind | May 15, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse


The only thing Telework ensures is employees getting credit for 8-9-10 hour days whether they produce anything or not.

A lot of work is not quantifiable. Also, requirements to treat similarly situated employees the same regardless of demonstrated work ethic leads to abuse. Telework works if either the work is quantifiable or you trust the employee. Trust is not easily quantifiable.

I'm sure most managers can be indoctrinated to grin and bear it regarding Telework.

Posted by: TCarrollo | May 17, 2009 12:48 AM | Report abuse

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