Skip to main content

Telecommuting

STATEMENT OF DAVID BIBB
ACTING DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR

 

GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TECHNOLOGY AND PROCUREMENT POLICY
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM

MARCH 22, 1997

Good morning Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, and members of the Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy. Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today to discuss the progress of Federal telecommuting initiatives. My name is David L. Bibb, and I am the Acting Deputy Administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration.

I also serve as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Real Property in GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy. My office is concerned with promoting and supporting innovative real property and workplace practices on a Governmentwide basis, including telework. The office's Telework Team has been at the forefront in promoting the use of telework and alternative workplace strategies for the Federal government. Along with the Office of Personnel Management, our team provides Governmentwide policy guidance, best practices and advocacy for all telework-related issues in the Federal Government.

My testimony will provide some additional details about the telework role of the Office of Governmentwide Policy. Switching to the operational side, I will also provide information about the metropolitan Washington DC telecenters operated by GSA's Public Buildings Service. Finally, I will narrow the focus to how GSA is implementing telework policies and programs for our own employees.

Specific Steps to Promote Telework for Federal Employees

GSA's efforts to increase the use of telework at the Federal level include an active outreach and communications program. GSA uses a variety of media such as web sites, conferences, pamphlets, an electronic mail list serve, a network of interagency telework coordinators, and personal briefings to keep Federal agencies informed about telework-related news, events, and issues.

Through partnerships with the International Telework Association & Council, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Telework America Day, and other organizations, GSA has supported and participated in educational workshops, conferences, and promotional events on telework aimed at the Federal audience. Along with the Office of Personnel Management, GSA is leading a major Governmentwide policy review to resolve issues that could impede the growth of Federal telework. This effort also includes the development of a Federal agency telework tracking system.

The Office of Governmentwide Policy's Telework Team is highly engaged in numerous GSA and interagency initiatives that explore the cutting edge benefits of telework including telecommunications and technology issues; public-private cooperation to develop telework opportunities for the spouses of relocated Federal and military employees; continuity of operations issues; and hotelling and other case studies.

GSA's Actions Relating to the Requirements of Public Law 106-346 Section 359

GSA is working diligently to compile the information requested by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in their guidance to all Federal agencies addressing the 2001 Telework Law. GSA's internal policy calls for development of formal telework agreements in situations where employees are working away from the traditional office on a regular basis, but does not specify a requirement for the number of days away from the office. GSA employees participate in a wide range of "regular" telework arrangements, ranging from one day a pay period spent outside the traditional office, up to ten days during a pay period, or full time work away from the office. Policy does not require a formal agreement for intermittent or occasional work away from the office. Although there is anecdotal evidence that many GSA employees participate in this type of telework, we have not to date tracked these types of work arrangements.

Currently GSA managers are advised to follow the parameters set forth on OPM's web site in regard to eligibility criteria, and focus on the suitability of the work of the position. Suitability is defined in broad terms, with the focus on job content rather than title or work schedule. OPM specifies that telework is feasible for work that requires thinking and writing, and for computer-oriented positions, but may not be suitable if the position requires extensive face-to-face contact with the supervisor or the general public, for example. Within GSA, police officers and wage grade workers have traditionally been looked at as positions that require an employee to be on-site and are therefore not appropriate for telework. We will be reviewing these eligibility criteria as part of the ongoing efforts required by the new legislation.

In response to OPM's recent request for data by April 2, 2001, and in recognition of the fact that our current tracking process has not captured the full range of telework participation within the agency, GSA plans to implement an electronic survey/questionnaire to all employees in order to establish a "baseline" from which to measure that participation. In addition, we are working with the interagency group convened as part of the OPM-GSA policy review on a wide range of telework issues including tracking. We recognize that one option for tracking actual hours spent in a telework situation is through the time and attendance system, and we are also exploring options that may address the broader issues of tracking mileage and environmental issues. At this point in time, the work of this interagency group is ongoing, and our plan is to assess the options and recommendations coming out of that group in relation to GSA's particular needs in this area.

How GSA Incorporated Telecommuting into our Work Model

Telework at GSA has been both a case-by-case phenomenon and a programmatic effort. GSA has allowed participation in telework arrangements since the development of the pilot flexiplace program 11 years ago, and in fact allowed for work away from the traditional office on a case-by-case basis even before that. Many employees telework intermittently on an as-needed basis, due to the nature of specific assignments, travel requirements, or other factors.

There are many examples of offices or organizations within GSA that have implemented successful telework initiatives. The best example is GSA's Public Buildings Service in the New England Region, where the entire staff was offered the opportunity for telework in response to transportation problems associated with the major infrastructure redevelopment known as the "Big Dig." Currently, 23 percent of eligible workers work from home one or more days a month, and 30 percent use technology to perform their work outside the office. Another example, recognized by an award from the International Telework Association & Council, is the Greater Southwest Region's Energy & Water Management Center in Fort Worth, TX. In this example, a seven person staff works entirely from their homes, saving $30,000 a year in office space costs. My own office, the Office of Real Property, has conducted a successful telework effort that has resulted in over 50 percent of the staff teleworking regularly, including two employees who work from home full time.

The problem of middle management resistance to telework in the Federal Government, based on a lack of comfort with supervising employees who are not physically present, has been well publicized. What is less well publicized is that employees who telework also can be uncomfortable due to uncertainty about what is expected from them, technology problems relating to connectivity and remote access, and fear of being "out of sight, out of mind." Another fact that does not get mentioned enough is that all these problems - management and employee alike - are well-documented phenomena relating to telework in general across a wide variety of organizations in both the public and private sectors.

We would recommend a focus on four areas in order to improve the prospects for teleworking where increased usage is desired. First, both management and staff need training in how to work in a telework environment, including a focus on results rather than where the work gets done. Second, potential users must continue ongoing initiatives that identify problems and find solutions, such as the OPM-GSA policy review, the technology barriers study requested by Congress which is now underway, and greater use of the Internet to communicate policy guidance and exchange information and best practices.

Third, we need to recognize that greater numbers of teleworkers will require an increased investment in technology, connectivity, and training. The typical benefits are greater employee satisfaction and productivity; less traffic congestion and pollution; greater flexibility to achieve work/life balance; and a more technologically savvy workforce. However, these benefits are not measured in traditional economic return terms, and it is often difficult to allocate scarce funds towards start-up costs. While it is possible that greater numbers of teleworkers might eventually decrease global real estate needs, there has been little reduction in space as a result of telework in either the Government or the private sector.

Finally, the most important mechanism to increase telework in the Federal Government is cultural change. All of the aforementioned efforts will contribute to this as more and more employees have the opportunity to telework, but for telework to increase in any organization top management must communicate that telework is encouraged where practical, and it must convey the rationale for its use.

Telework's Impact on GSA

GSA has not tracked the benefits that telework may have on employee performance and telework's financial benefits on a centralized basis. Anecdotal feedback indicates that employee performance often is enhanced when the opportunity to telework is available, and that morale and productivity are also bolstered. Within the agency, certain organizations have taken a strong business case approach to telework, such as the previously mentioned examples in the New England Region and the Greater Southwest Region. For the most part, however, telework has tended to be implemented on a case-by-case or employee-by-employee basis. Individual organizations determine the parameters of telework arrangements, including equipment purchase, space use, provision of supplies and phone lines, etc. We have struggled with the difficulty of providing a "model" for a business case study, based on the broad flexibility in implementation of telework throughout the agency.

Role of Telecenters in the Federal Government

Using innovative technologies, telecenters have provided an alternative that allows employees to perform office functions at a site closer to their homes. Telecenters offer fully equipped ergonomically designed workstations and high-speed personal computers with separate data lines. Equipment includes fax machines, printers, copiers and local area networks. This technology allows employees full access to agency information networks subject to security restrictions. Centers are used for those tasks suitable to being performed outside of the usual agency workplace.

The 16 telecenters operated by GSA's Public Buildings Service in the Washington Metropolitan Area offer 339 workstations that were used by 362 Federal employees from 17 Executive Branch agencies during Fiscal Year 2000. Of the 17 agencies that use the telecenters, three dominate usage and account for approximately 66 percent of Federal government telecenter occupancy: Defense, GSA and Transportation. In general, GSA has underwritten the cost of development for the telecenters with investment capital provided by appropriations over the years. To date, as a group the telecenters are not breaking even economically. However, I believe that we must carefully track the impact of Public Law 106-346 in assessing their viability.

Again, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate having the opportunity to appear before you today and I would be pleased to answer any questions the subcommittee may have.