11/6/07: Meaningful and practical federal telework programs are in place at some federal agencies, but uneven commitment by many others has resulted in a spotty track record of success, NTEU National President Colleen Kelley told a House subcommittee today.
In submitted testimony, President Kelley voiced her support for an amendment to H.R. 3221, an energy bill, offered by Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) that would require all federal agencies to establish a written telework policy, and would punish agencies that fail to adhere to it. The language also would require:
- All agencies to have a telework training program for employees and managers;
- All but the smallest agencies to have a full-time telework managing officer to serve as a resource for employees and managers;
- Congress to maintain oversight and evaluation of all federal telework programs. Such evaluation would consist of an annual report from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) detailing each agency’s telework policy and grading the agency based on the degree of telework participation among employees.
Kelley suggested that the federal government institute the red/amber/green light method as the best approach for grading agency telework efforts. “The merits and effectiveness of telework are real,” she said. “Its overall success directly correlates to management’s openness, or resistance, to its proper implementation.”
President Kelley made her comments as the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia explored the current status of telework in the federal sector. As part of the hearing, the subcommittee members heard from an NTEU member and Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) employee who regularly teleworks under a program negotiated between the union and the agency. PTO serves as a model agency, Kelley said, noting that over 85 percent of the trademark attorneys participate in telework.
Also testifying at the hearing was the Department of Justice. The Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has denied NTEU’s request that 50 Legal Instrument Examiners, who were moved to West Virginia from Washington, D.C. — resulting in a three-hour commute for some employees — be allowed to telework. ATF claims that to allow these employees to telework would require them to modernize their system to switch from paper to electronic form processing, which the agency is reluctant to do.
NTEU also has contractual telework, or flexiplace, agreements with several other agencies, including the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These telework programs work with varying degrees of success.
The current telework agreement between NTEU and OCC, a division of the Treasury Department, is an example of a telework program that looks good on paper, but suffers from a lack of management commitment. “Our members tell us that some OCC supervisors are adamantly against telework, others are mildly supportive and a few have enthusiastically embraced it,” President Kelley said. “In one part of the agency, only eight out of 510 employees are currently doing recurring telework.”
Telework not only benefits the agency and its employees, but also the economy and the environment. “Telework can bring about increased productivity due to uninterrupted time for employees to plan work, reduce tension levels by eliminating difficult commutes and improve quality of life due to time saved not commuting,” she said. “That, in turn, improves employees’ overall quality of life.”