Telework and Bureaucracy: Who Is in Charge?

A new GAO report about telework programs and policies in the federal government.

“Telework” has received quite a bit of publicity in Federal agencies in the past several years. The term usually refers to work performed at an employee’s home or at a work location other than a traditional office.

Telework is usually assumed to be a good program for employees and may also be good for agencies hoping to retain good employees. The most significant Congressional action related to telework is Sec. 359 of Pub. L. No. 106-346 passed in October 2000. It requires each executive agency to establish a policy under which eligible employees may participate in telework.

There are two lead agencies for the telework initiative, the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management. Two organizations leading a project can lead to confusion and lack of direction. Why should this instance be any different?

Before you start shouting “bureaucratic turf,” you should know that GAO has issued a new report on telework in the government. Some readers will be surprised that GAO found confusion and lack of direction in the program. Some of the services and resources are offered jointly by both GSA and OPM. Other services are offered individually by both agencies and in other cases they offer different versions of the same advice or service. Who would have thought this was possible when the program was set up?

You can download the report from the link on the left hand side of this page. GAO identified one instance of a problem where each agency issued a different view on dependent care. The issue was apparently resolved after GAO brought it to the attention of the two agencies.

In reviewing the telework policies of the government, GAO concludes “the federal government’s telework initiative needs further development to become an effective human capital flexibility.”

“[E]ffective human capital flexibility” doesn’t flow easily off the tongue–even if one claims to understand what it means. We think GAO is saying that the program doesn’t work very well. At least part of the problem is due to conflicting leadership roles or, stated more succinctly, no one knows who is in charge.

GAO sums up the problem:

We also recommend that the Administrator, GSA, and the Director, OPM, ensure that the offices in their agencies with responsibilities for the governmentwide telework initiative improve coordination of their efforts to provide federal agencies with consistent, inclusive, unambiguous support and guidance related to telework. To do so, they should clearly delineate their responsibilities for this initiative and work together to resolve existing areas of difference. The Memorandum of Understanding that the agencies are considering could be very helpful in making progress on this key issue.”

No doubt, another memo of understanding will help resolve the problem. Moreover, in a joint letter, OPM and GSA are “taken aback by this finding” that there has been a lack of direction and coordination.

In addition to reading about the traditional bureaucratic turf wars in government bureaucracy, there is also a good outline in the GAO report of telework policies and programs and how agencies are implementing the program.

Enjoy the report.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47