OPM sticks with telework plan

Official: New legislation not in the works

Despite some claims to the contrary, Office of Personnel Management officials said they are not looking to pursue additional legislation that would further expand teleworking options within the government.

Dan Green, OPM's deputy associate director for employee and family support policies, said comments he made at a July congressional hearing were mischaracterized. His statement led many to believe the agency would shop a legislative proposal.

"We have no plan to pursue additional legislation on telework," Green said.
Asked to clarify, an OPM spokesman said: "The bottom line is there never was legislation [planned] and there will never be any."

That surprised many observers who attended a July 18 hearing before the House Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce and agency organization.

Chad Bungard, spokesman for subcommittee chairman Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.), said he felt OPM officials were quite clear that they were going to propose legislation.

Congressional and agency sources also said they've seen very rough drafts of telework legislation, though that doesn't mean it will ever be proposed.

OPM will continue promoting its recently published telework guide as part of the Bush administration's overall pandemic-flu strategy, Green said. The guide provides managers a reference as they implement telework policies in their agencies, he said.

For example, the guide recounts the statutory requirements established in 2000 that require agencies to set up a telework policy without diminishing employee performance. It suggests that managers should understand the policies and requirements that have already been released by OPM and the General Services Administration, and offers advice on understanding and assessing the telework needs of their workforces.

With federal telework progress mixed thus far, the guide should serve as a comprehensive resource, Green said.

But critics said the guide is too vague to have any lasting impact.

"What they put out there was ... very shallow and doesn't consider the details that are needed for setting up a telework policy," said one agency official, familiar with telework matters, who requested anonymity.

Stephen O'Keeffe, executive director of the Telework Exchange of Alexandria, Va., a joint federal-industry online community, said the guidance was a good start, but that more details and rules are needed.

"OPM should be applauded for this," he said. The guidance offers "a lot of good information, but we need to drill down to the next level."

For his part, Green said OPM can only do so much; it is up to the agencies to determine how best to implement telework.

"We've got to consider our role as opposed to other agencies," he said. "The government is a huge organization with employees all over the globe," and the guide won't fit all situations, he said.

"For telework programs to work effectively, they must be established to coincide with the agencies' missions. OPM provides a broad structure for that to happen," Green said.

Rob Thormeyer is a staff writer with Government Computer News. He can be reached at rthormeyer@postnewswektech.com.

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