OPM's Berry discusses telework during government shutdowns

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prevalence of telework, in fact, makes the $100 million-a-day figure that a government shutdown is said to cost an outdated figure.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.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

Reader Comments

Tue, Feb 16, 2010

Office is closed due to inclement weather. Do you, if you telework that day, get some form of compensation (credit or compensatory time)? That is, according to OPM you are off, yet since you have a laptop you are tasked to work by your agency (even though your duty station is closed). This is in a way "forced telework". Is that legal? Is this taking telework too far and applying rules to suit leadership (as opposed to internal rules, like length in service, performance rating and such to get only a part of the 80 hour workweek approved to telework during good weather days). This is the federal government playing both sides of a very 'topical and hot' issue.

Fri, Feb 12, 2010

How much does it save the government to require contractor to use their own computers, their own internet connectivity and their own electricity to telework during these federal closures?

Fri, Feb 12, 2010 Earl Kelton Washington, DC

The Administraive Office of the US Courts after great deliberation embraced Tele-working a couple of years ago and it appears to be working well. After polling the mid level managers their biggest fear was losing control of the extended office. Unfortunately, this is a major road block for other agency implementing tele-working. Until agency get new, younger managers and replace the old guard tele-working will not be readily accepted. It is a shame when the majority has to suffer for the insecurity of a few.

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