One of the challenges of trying to provide readers with links to online resources is that those resources don't always stay put.
A story from last week provides a good example. Matthew Weigelt covered a report from the Defense Department's Inspector General regarding the department's accuracy in verifying the status of service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.
We published the story and, as we always try to do when possible, linked to the IG report.
The story began to get readers and we promoted it in the next day's e-mail newsletter – and then the report disappeared.
The link stopped working, and our staff was unable to locate it elsewhere on the IG's website, until today.
It turned out that the IG's office had taken the report down because “there was an inappropriate warning on the cover that was not applicable to the public version,” according to statement the DOD IG's public affairs office sent to Weigelt.
The report is unclassified and should not have had the warning label, but nothing changed in the content, according to the Office of the IG.
Meanwhile, it left us unable to link to the resource that the story was about, and no explanation of what had happened. The link has been restored. If you read the original story and were frustrated that you couldn't read the report, click here to return to it.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 06, 2012 at 7:26 PM1 comments
It wasn't so long ago that a typical telework story in Federal Computer Week followed a predictable arc: Feds want it, outside groups encourage it, and managers resist it, usually for fuddy-duddy reasons such as a concern that employees will slack off if not watched.
In the past year or so, there has been a real change. The stories we've done more recently have largely lacked the management-aversion angle or at least featured it much less prominently. Managers’ resistance seems to be breaking down, and the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, coupled with President Barack Obama's strong support, has no doubt gone some way toward easing the transition. Technology improvements that include faster, more secure home networks and the proliferation of cloud services have also helped.
Coverage now is more likely to focus on specific situations, such as the technological innovations that are giving rise to a virtual workforce or questions about unusual situations that might fall outside the boundaries of a standard telework policy.
For example, our workforce reporter, Camille Tuutti, wrote a blog entry about a question a reader had submitted: Should a worker who lives close to the office be allowed to telework?
“She lives less than a mile from work,” the reader wrote. “She could walk. Would you allow her to telework when it's obvious she wants to be able to go to the store when she wants, watch a TV show when she wants, etc.?”
Readers were generally supportive of the woman and didn’t share the concerns of the person posing the question. They wondered: If her work is satisfactory, what's the problem?
“Your assumption that she ‘really’ wants to drive around town all day and watch TV is so old-school that, for me, it's a tip-off that the management style in your office should be more closely examined,” one reader chided the questioner.
Readers also disputed the suggestion that telework is primarily about reducing pollution by encouraging less driving. “This is a ridiculous thread,” one wrote. “If people who choose to live far away from the office are given special consideration, people smart enough to live within walking distance should be allowed the same consideration.”
Another article, also by Tuutti, offered some examples of small agencies that have embraced telework with good results. The Library of Congress and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration were featured as success stories, with examples of small pilot tests that grew into widespread programs.
Our readers responded enthusiastically to the article.
“I...believe the apprehension in embracing a mobile workforce is more fear than anything else — fear of not knowing and fear of loosening the reins on employees,” one wrote. “I have been slowly introduced to the telework program and now absolutely love it. Production and morale have dramatically increased in our department.”
“We’ve seen many success stories in the year since the passage of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010,” commented Sam Davis, a vice president at the American Management Association’s Enterprise Government Solutions. “We expect to continue to see an increase in government agencies adopting telework for many reasons, including the recruitment and retention incentives mentioned. Leadership development training is a crucial part of this process as organizations continue to make these necessary changes.”
But another reader named Mike, commenting on the same article, added a cautionary note. “It's always a case-by-case basis.… I see more camaraderie and teamwork when folks are at work together. Short-notice meetings…usually require folks to be [physically] available to attend.”
Overall, it's fair to say that the tide has turned on telework. The conversation is no longer about whether the government will embrace the concept but how and under what conditions. Moreover, the conversation is shifting to even broader issues of mobility in off-site workers. The term “telework” still connotes an employee tied to a location, such as a home office, but mobility suggests an even greater freedom. Think of someone with an iPad at a coffee shop, reading their work e-mail over a latte and a danish.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Feb 22, 2012 at 7:26 PM11 comments
Traditionally, the annual release of the president's budget request is an exciting time at Federal Computer Week. Every year, we get the budget document as soon as its available and have our reporters comb through it in exacting detail, looking for everything of interest to our readers -- from the grandest IT initiatives to the smallest nuggets of funding for small, but interesting, projects.
This year was no exception. We got President Barack Obama's request for fiscal 2013 -- online, not in print -- and had our staff pore over it, as always. But this time, there wasn't much to find. At least, not in the technology policy arena.
Grand IT initiatives? Forget it. 2013 isn't a year for expansion or striking out down new roads. Small, but interesting, projects? There are a few, but only a few.
Mostly, this year's budget proposal is about saving money, cutting costs. What innovation there is centered around gaining efficiencies and reducing expenses. A number of programs will lose funding, in part or in full, at least for the year. And the outlook for future years isn't likely to be better.
That's not to say there aren't interesting ideas. The push to consolidate data centers is there, and so is the suggestion of creating a “data center marketplace,” in which agencies in need of new computing power can be steered toward unused capacity available within government. And noting which programs would lose funds under the request, such as the Justice Department's Integrated Wireless Network, is important. But still, there's much less to be said than in most years.
It doesn't help that the president's budget is never the budget that gets enacted. Everyone knows that it will be subject to debate, compromise and often replacement as it wends its way through Congress. Whatever budget finally does pass is certain to bear little resemblance to the request released Feb. 13. In years in which there are bold proposals and fresh initiatives, that matters less, because the prominent parts of the president's request form the centerpiece of the debate and often end up passing more or less intact. In a year where there are no such proposals, there's much less to say.
So how do we cover the budget in such a year? Diligently, because it still matters, but with greater difficulty. Congressional counter-proposals, due to be expressed in appropriations bills later this year, take on great importance. But the president's request matters, even if it leads to no actual funding, because it expresses the administration's priorities. If Obama is re-elected this year, the proposals in the budget will likely remain policy priorities in his second term. So the budget request isn't a moot point, just not a terribly interesting one.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Feb 17, 2012 at 7:26 PM0 comments