OPM's Berry discusses telework during government shutdowns

OPM Director John Berry fielded questions about telework during an online chat session today and said he was optimistic that the blizzard experience would drive home to agency leaders the importance of making telework possible.

For the last week, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry may have been the most important man in Washington. For five workdays in a row, Berry has been the one making the final decision on whether the national capital area’s 270,000 snow-weary federal workers should report to work.

On Thursday — the fourth consecutive day the federal government in Washington was shut down — feds and non-feds alike had the chance to ask questions of the man with the power during a live online Q&A session on the Washington Post's Web site.

First: The President's Day holiday on Feb. 15 will not be canceled, Berry said.

Some other highlights from the Post session:

A reader with a component of the Health and Human Services Department said the agency requires employees have one year of employment before they can telework. That prevented the employee from teleworking this week.

"We, OPM, has no one-year requirement and I hope that after this experience your agency will appreciate the importance value, productivity allowing as many workers as possible to telework without arbitrary restrictions such as a one-year delay," Berry replied.

Several of the questions concerned telework, and Berry said he was optimistic that the experience would drive home to agency leaders the importance of making it possible.

"One of the lessons learned from the snowstorm is that we need to encourage agencies to acquire more portable, modern computers that will make it easier and more secure to work from home," he said.

The growing prevalence of telework, in fact, makes the $100 million-a-day figure that a government shutdown is said to cost an outdated figure. It was based on lost productivity among other factors, and the more employees can telework, the less productivity is lost. Berry said OPM will soon update the formula used to calculate the cost.

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