Key Issues > Federal Telework
human capital icon, source: GAO

Federal Telework

Telework is a work arrangement that allows an employee to perform work at an approved alternative worksite such as the employee’s home or a telework center. The federal government has increasingly recognized telework as an important human capital strategy that can give employees more work/life balance; help agencies continue operations during emergency events; provide environmental, energy, and other benefits to society; and help agencies plan their workforces.

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In 2003, when telework was still relatively new to the federal government, several agencies faced numerous difficulties in implementing their individual telework programs, and there were many barriers to participation. That year, GAO identified 25 key practices in telework-related literature and guidelines as those that federal agencies should implement in developing telework programs.

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 was a large step forward in transforming the federal government’s approach to telework. The act established a framework of requirements for executive agencies to meet when implementing telework programs. These requirements include notifying all employees of their eligibility to telework and establishing agency telework participation goals to allow agencies to measure and report results. The Telework Act also requires the Office of Personnel Management  (OPM) to submit an annual report to Congress addressing the telework program in each executive agency.

Benefits and Costs of Telework

There are various benefits and costs associated with federal agency telework programs. Although selected agencies had little data to support the benefits and costs, they frequently cited these benefits:

  • Improved recruitment and retention
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved work/life balance

Selected agencies also cited these costs:

  • Ongoing costs, such as training staff and managing the telework program
  • One-time costs, such as setting up information technology

While some agencies are able to report the benefits and costs of telework, OPM still needs to work with the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council to provide clarifying guidance on options for developing supporting data for the benefits and costs of telework.

Also, agencies recently reported significantly fewer examples of telework cost savings to OPM. Amidst this decline, OPM decided to collect less information about cost savings for inclusion in its annual telework report to Congress. OPM needs to include cost savings questions in future telework data calls to ensure that it is providing information to Congress for assessing the value of federal telework programs.

Collaboration with Federal Agencies

OPM also provides resources to agencies to help them with their telework programs, including fee-for-service assistance to help implement or improve existing telework programs and training and webinars on responding to its annual data call. However, it may be missing other opportunities to help agencies better identify the net cost savings associated with their telework programs.

Telework Data Reliability

OPM collects data on telework via its annual data call and consults with the CHCO Council about the information it includes in its annual telework report to Congress.  OPM has recognized weaknesses in agency sources for telework participation and frequency data and needs to improve the reliability of its data collection by working with the CHCO Council. However, it has not taken adequate steps to establish a completion date by which agencies should produce reliable data from employee time and attendance tracking systems, which OPM defines as the most reliable tracking method. OPM is working with the CHCO Council to develop more reliable telework data and expects agencies will have automated data that will be used in future OPM reports to Congress.

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Federal TeleworkMonday, August 1, 2016