Workplace Accommodation:

EPA's Alternative Workspace Process Requires Greater Managerial Oversight

GGD-92-53: Published: Mar 18, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to allow one of its headquarters employees to work in her home rather than in her assigned office workspace, focusing on the: (1) background and scope of the EPA alternative workspace (AWS) approval process; and (2) grievance the employee filed concerning problems she reportedly experienced while working at home.

GAO found that: (1) EPA established its AWS policies and procedures in 1988 to allow employees alternative work locations or assignments as an accommodation to their health problems; (2) between November 1988 and November 1991, 34 headquarters employees received approval for AWS as a health-related accommodation, and 18 of those 34 AWS employees were authorized to work in their homes; (3) the EPA headquarters employee who sought AWS through the established approval process reported experiencing health-related problems in her originally assigned office and in two alternative office work locations between July 1990 and November 1990; (4) EPA authorized the employee to work at home beginning in December 1990 and she was still working at home as of late February 1992; (5) in February 1991, the employee filed a grievance concerning various work-related problems, including dissatisfaction with the nature of her work-at-home assignment, lack of access to certain work information, supplies, and computer equipment, and her belief that certain management officials were treating her unfairly; (6) although the employee was still dissatisfied with her treatment by management officials, she elected to withdraw her grievance in May 1991 because she had virtually completed her work assignment on which her grievance had largely been based; and (7) EPA internal controls over AWS are insufficient to protect the government's interests, since AWS administration is dispersed among several offices, there is no overall managerial control or oversight, and documentation and reevaluation requirements are unclear.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to EPA human resources officials, EPA's Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of Administration and Resources Management (DAA/OARM), has been designated as the key EPA official with agencywide AWS program management responsibility. However, EPA has yet to implement an agencywide AWS policy containing the procedural and managerial safeguards and controls that GAO determined were necessary for effective management of the AWS program. Absent such a policy, DAA/OARM's ability to strengthen managerial control and oversight over the AWS process, the stated purpose of the GAO recommendation, is, and will likely continue to be, substantially impaired.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Administration and Resources Management to strengthen managerial control and oversight over the AWS process by vesting a single EPA office or official with express authority and overall responsibility for developing and implementing agencywide AWS policies and procedures and for overall management of the AWS process.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA officials said that an EPA workgroup consisting of labor, management, and human resources representatives had been working since early 1994 to develop an agencywide AWS policy, and that an AWS policy proposal drafted by the workgroup had been circulated agencywide for review and comment in mid-1995. The officials said that this draft proposal contained medical reevaluation provisions along the lines outlined in the GAO recommendation. The officials added, however, that because critical differences of opinion continued to exist, primarily between the labor and management workgroup participants, over how the AWS medical reevaluation process should be structured, the AWS policy remained in the formulation stage. The officials could not say when EPA would complete and implement the AWS policy, but did say that EPA management remained committed to a policy containing the medical reevaluation requirements needed to provide adequate managerial control and oversight.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Administration and Resources Management to strengthen managerial control and oversight over the AWS process by developing and implementing an agencywide policy requiring that all current and future AWS employees undergo periodic medical reevaluations by the employee health unit physician or other appropriate medical authority as a condition of continuing in AWS for health-related reasons, consistent with the medical documentation requirements of 5 C.F.R. 339.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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