CSIA: Telework could serve as federal continuity measure

Federal agencies should do more to allow their employees to work at home, according to a network security policy group. Should terrorists strike U.S. metropolitan subways or highways, agencies will then be better equipped to continue operations because workers can continue to work from home, according to a report from the Cyber Security Industry Alliance.

"Telework will make us a far more resilient. Even if we have a major attack on the infrastructure downtown or on a major transport system, we will still be able to communicate with each other," said Paul Kurtz, executive director of CSIA.

Released last week, the report, Making Telework a Federal Priority: Security is Not the Issue, notes that many federal agencies have discouraged teleworking initiatives in the past, citing security concerns about workers tapping into internal networks from afar. Few still list security as a concern however, realizing the technology can be robust enough to handle remote access, Kurtz said. Yet government agencies still lag when it comes to offering employees the option to telework.

The recent London bombings show how agency operations could be hindered should terrorists strike public transportation, however.

"We are going to have disruptions in our community infrastructure here, whether it will be a bomb threat or a bomb itself, where we could have extended outages," Kurtz said.

Telework can help with agency continuity-of-operations plans in such crises, CSIA suggests. The group cites Federal Preparedness Circular 65, issued in 1999, which provides guidance on how to develop disaster contingency plans and specifically encouraged agencies to look at remote locations.

Increasing federal teleworking would also reduce traffic congestion and air pollution and, the report claims, increase employee productivity.

Despite an abundance of pilot programs, presidential directives, legislative mandates and threats of funding cuts, agencies have been falling behind their commercial counterparts in migrating people toward working at home.

The report cites a May 2004 Government Accountability Office study that showed the percentage of federal employees who were eligible to telework did not increase between 2002 and 2003. CSIA contrasted this stagnation with a 7.5 percent increase in the number U.S. home workers from 2003 to 2004, according to a study conducted by the Dieringer Research Group Inc. of Milwaukee.

Teleworking barriers are not technology-related, but rather cultural and budgetary, the CSIA report posits. Mid-level managers still prefer to physically watch over their workers, Kurtz said. Also, financial considerations might be thwarting teleworking: Any money saved, such as reducing office space, must be returned to the Treasury. Nor are agencies enthusiastic about providing additional funding for telework training and information.

The CSIA suggested that the President's Management Agenda for e-government should include a component to increase teleworking.

Joab Jackson is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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