An Assessment of Dependent Care Needs of Federal Workers Using the Office of Personnel Management's Survey

GAO-07-437R: Published: Mar 30, 2007. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 2007.

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Recognizing the changing demographics of the federal workforce--significant portions of the workforce are aging, facing the need to care for elderly parents, and are or will be retiring, and in turn likely to be replaced by a younger workforce with child care needs--the Congress was interested in understanding the dependent care needs of the federal workforce and to what extent employees were using or could use federal programs and benefits designed to help meet these needs. We have previously reported that work-life programs, such as alternative flexible work schedules and child care centers and assistance, are viewed by agency officials as being among the most effective programs used to help manage their workforce. In response to these trends, the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, included a mandate in its Conference Report 108-792 directing GAO to: (1) provide technical assistance to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the General Services Administration (GSA) in their efforts to gather data on federal employee child care needs and analyze options to meet those needs, and (2) review the data and analysis generated and provide the results to the Committees. This letter and enclosure is our response to this mandate. More specifically, they provide our analysis of results from a survey of federal employees, which OPM developed and administered, that address: (1) the extent of dependent care needs reported by these employees, and (2) the ways in which these employees currently meet those needs, including the use of certain federally-sponsored programs and flexibilities intended to help address child and adult dependent care needs.

Governmentwide, survey results show that about 54 percent of federal employees reported having either child or adult dependent care needs, or both, and about 19 percent of employees currently without dependent care needs expect to have them in the future. Dependent care needs varied across executive branch agencies and between the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. Governmentwide, federal employees with children reported using an array of child care arrangements to meet their needs, with about 75 percent of them reporting that they prefer the arrangements they currently use. Most employees reported they prefer to use some form of in-home care to meet their needs. In terms of availability, we found that there are currently 225 federally-sponsored child care centers nationwide with one half sponsored and operated by GSA and the other half sponsored and managed by agencies. When determining whether to sponsor a center, an agency, among other things, assesses the geographic location of its employees and whether there are large enough numbers to sustain a center, and if this is the best federal option available to meet employee needs. Governmentwide, employees reported also using a variety of workplace scheduling flexibilities as options for addressing their dependent care needs. The availability and use of these flexibilities varied widely across agencies and more employees in the legislative agencies and judicial units reported using such flexibilities than in executive agencies. Although availability and use varied, survey results indicated that these workplace scheduling flexibilities were consistently important to the recruitment and retention of employees with dependent care needs governmentwide. The dependent care survey results indicate there is no overall mandate for new or additional federal dependent care programs and benefits, since most employees are satisfied with their current care arrangements. However, the data do suggest that agencies could improve communication about and, therefore, better leverage the existing federal dependent care programs and benefits that they may offer, given that a significant number of employees said they did not know if their agency offered these programs or did not know how to use them. Because survey results varied across agencies, they could review their individual results with the programs and workplace options they offer to determine whether these programs and options best balance the agencies' employees' needs with mission requirements and promote recruitment and retention of high-quality federal employees. In reviewing their agency-specific data to assess their employees' unique needs, executive agencies can coordinate with OPM, legislative agencies can coordinate with any relevant oversight bodies such as the Chief Administrative Officers (CAO) Council, and judicial court units can coordinate with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. When assessing dependent care needs, agencies will want to consider conditions and circumstances unique to their agency and employees, including the age, income, and geographic distribution of their workforce.

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