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John Klossner's Ink Tank

How the federal government is missing the bus with its telework strategy

Do not work

In reading the most recent foray by the federal government into teleworking policy, it occurs to me that this is becoming an annual event. For the past several years, the federal government has been trying to figure out some way to standardize teleworking for agencies and their employees. It's starting to feel like a New Year's resolution, with agencies on the treadmill, their list posted in front of them: "Lose a trillion budget dollars, get the entire country to eat carrots, create a coherent teleworking policy..."

In reading about this year's resolution one item in particular caught my attention -- "Currently, 102,900 of the 1.9 million federal employees regularly work remotely. Of the total workforce, 62 percent are eligible to telework. To encourage the practice, the Obama administration has set a goal of having 150,000 government employees teleworking on a regular basis by 2011."

Using my rusty math skills to roughly round these figures out, let me get this straight: 62 percent of the fed workforce is eligible to telework, and the administration's goal is to have 7 percent? Not to mention that from that 62 percent potential, only 5 percent is currently teleworking. "Encourage the practice?" Isn't that like needing to lose 10 pounds and encouraging people to give up cinnamon sprinkles on their mocca latte with whipped cream? If the people in charge of the space program had thought this way, they would have encouraged getting a man on the moon by having aspirants go to the top of the Sears Building.

This tiptoeing around telework is slowly taking the shape of following and not leading. In this story about the potential savings from telework, it’s noted that in a recent survey of government employees, “22 percent said they were teleworking without formal agreements, doing at least some of their jobs from home or elsewhere away from the office." ("Without formal agreements?" Is teleworking the new "don't ask, don't tell?"). Since these respondents said they were doing "at least some of their jobs" away from a central office -- and I'd be willing to guess that the majority of teleworking fed employees do so part time – it’s probably a safe bet the number of federal teleworkers already exceeds the stated goal for 2011.

I tried looking for some statistics about the amount of teleworkers in the world at large. While reports on teleworking in the private sector give a wide spectrum of figures -- often being used to support the argument of the particular author -- the one constant is that the amount of people working outside of a central office has been rising and will continue to rise. The federal government's lagging behind this change in work habits can only harm their efforts on several fronts.

Among them is recruitment. How do federal agencies, with their aspirations of having 7 percent of their workforce teleworking, hope to attract talent from a generation that has been working anywhere but a central office for their entire lives? Will the feds just dance around telework policy until the generation that has spent their careers working from the office retires? I would hope we could be more proactive on this issue, rather than waiting for the cubicles to slowly empty.

And I'll be the first to admit that teleworking is not for everyone. Besides the security and communication concerns, what can start out as an attempt to better balance one's work and personal life can sometimes lead to an uncomfortable integration of the two without clear borders between your personal and professional lives. It takes considerable discipline to telework, and I find numerous anecdotes of people glad to return to the protected environs of the office.

Unfortunately, the feds' approach to teleworking is echoing their timeliness on other technology issues -- "we'll get right to work on teleworking standards as soon as we finish those fax machine regs" -- leaving the workforce to figure out a way to make their federal employee lives reflect the world they live in outside the office, with confusing results. This is reinforced by the numerous anecdotes I find commenting on management-employee relations, with managers saying that they don't trust their employees to work outside the office and employees saying they don’t trust their managers to administer telework policy fairly, awarding the privilege based on favoritism or withholding it as punishment

With such animosity you'd think that the two sides would be happy to work farther apart from each other.

Oh, well, there's always next year.


Posted on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:26 PM13 comments

A government that's open about a closed process

John Klossner capitolboard

I recently witnessed an interesting experience involving my small Maine town and open government. For the third time in the past five years we find ourself in need of a town manager, who is chosen by the elected town council, who make their decision after interviewing all the applicants. In meeting with candidates for the current opening, our council had secret -- excuse me, "unpublic," (their term) -- interviews. In defending this, the head of the council played the media card -- he claimed that the last time they had interviewed candidates for the town manager's position, the interviewees had been identified and listed in a local newspaper report. This caused problems for some of the candidates with their current employers, who didn't know their employees were looking at other openings. The council head has been very open in defending the secret arguing that he was "defending the candidates from harassment."

Now this isn't really an open government issue. It's actually an illegal action. I'm writing about it to a) share my appreciation of the irony of my local government being open about not being open, and b) point out that I'm pretty sure my town council would proclaim itself and our town as practitioners of an "open" government.*

This brings me to one of my concerns about open government or, more specifically, the Open Government Initiative. That is, the name. With all the latest Web 2.0 technology at hand and a community of intelligent and talented people champing at the bit to participate, couldn't they have come up with a better name than the Open Government Initiative? I'm pretty sure most governments in history have considered themselves "open." And while our current open government refers to a perfect storm of available technologies, regulations, and eager participants, wouldn't one of the first steps -- a beta test, if nothing else -- have been to use those technologies to get the community to come up with a more descriptive and vibrant name than the "Open Government Initiative?"

History is full of states that referred to themselves as "open," but didn't quite pass the smell test. I'm not accusing our government of going North Korea on us, but by calling yourself "open," aren't you inviting cynicism and challenges? By going bland -- and let's face it, they could not have gotten more bland than "Open Government Initiative" -- the leaders of said initiative haven't given me reason to think of it as a cutting-edge, creative process. If, after using all the social conversations and technologies, you come up with vanilla ice cream you're not exactly giving me hope for raspberry fudge swirl in the near future, if you know what I mean.

I've looked through the site. They have categories and links for every conceivable issue of importance to interested citizens. Would it be so hard to add a link to a wiki tool allowing motivated parties to propose, discuss and choose an improved name for the Open Government Initiative? (And, in the highly likely event that this has already occurred and I missed the naming opportunities, was this really the best name? I can't help but feel that the fix was in.) I would start the process by proposing the following possibilities:

- WiiFed

- The We Need More Things for the Interns to do Site

- Ideas 'R' You

*Of course, in an actual open government process my local government would have used available technologies to allow the candidates to introduce themselves to the community and allow the community to give input into the interviewing and selection. Instead, there was a bunch of finger-wagging and harrumphing at a town meeting that Frank Capra would have appreciated. No charges were pressed, and we moved on to the all-important discussion of what to do with the leftover rocks from a local bridge improvement project.

John Klossner open government

Posted by John Klossner on Jan 20, 2011 at 7:26 PM2 comments

The year in cartoons: Security certifications, insourcing and light bulb procurements

I find it interesting that, as a cartoonist who attempts to make a statement in a singular, efficient image, I tend to write way too much in my blog posts for FCW.com. Maybe I'm finding a release for all the suppressed thoughts I gather when thinking about the cartoons. Maybe -- also -- that is why the editor asked me to pick some of my favorite cartoons from 2010 but to include only a sentence or two with each one; he knows enough to put the reins on.

This is harder than it sounds for two reasons. On the one hand, there’s my previously mentioned tendency to go on and on. On the other hand, the better cartoons and images speak for themselves, making the descriptions either redundant or lessening some of the potency of the cartoons themselves. So I end up wanting to say a lot when few words are necessary to begin with.

Nevertheless, I'll take a stab at it. I resolve to do a better job at self-editing in 2011 (either that or to spend less time on YouTube, I forget which).

John Klossner

A proposal to require more people to get security certification ignited a debate about whether certification training programs have any resemblance to real-life demands.

John Klossner

USA.gov asked for suggestions to improve its website. Unfortunately, some of the suggestions needed improvement.

John Klossner

Federal security standards sometimes run a little bit behind the technology used in complex federal networks.

John Klossner

FCW.com (OK, I) ran a contest asking for the punch line to the question "how many feds does it take to change a light bulb?"

John Klossner

In recruiting top talent for federal agencies, sometimes the biggest obstacle is the current employees.

John Klossner

The Obama administration’s insourcing initiative was driven, in part, by a concern that contractors are too closely involved in work that is "inherently governmental." (On a side note, I wish I had drawn this better. A stronger drawing would have made the cartoon more powerful.)

John Klossner

An Army Reserve colonel was fired after writing a column criticizing the military's reliance on PowerPoint.

John Klossner

In the latest skirmish in the never-ending war between feds and contractors, DOD recently began enforcing rules requiring contractors to identify themselves in all communications.

John Klossner

One of the most commented-upon stories for FCW in 2010 was "Why agencies can't attract top talent?"

Posted by John Klossner on Dec 21, 2010 at 7:26 PM3 comments

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