Human Capital:

Telework Programs Need Clear Goals and Reliable Data

GAO-08-261T: Published: Nov 6, 2007. Publicly Released: Nov 6, 2007.

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Bernice Steinhardt
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Office of Public Affairs
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Telework continues to receive attention within Congress and federal agencies as a human capital strategy that offers various flexibilities to both employers and employees. Increasingly recognized as an important means to achieving a number of federal goals, telework offers greater capability to continue operations during emergency events, as well as affording environmental, energy, and other benefits to society. This statement highlights some of GAO's prior work on federal telework programs, including key practices for successful implementation of telework initiatives, identified in a 2003 GAO report and a 2005 GAO analysis of telework program definitions and methods in five federal agencies. It also notes more recent work where agency officials cite their telework programs as yielding benefits. As GAO has previously recommended, Congress should determine ways to promote more consistent telework definitions and measures. In particular, Congress might want to have the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council develop definitions and measures that would allow for a more meaningful assessment of progress in agency telework programs.

Through a number of legislative actions, Congress has indicated its desire that agencies create telework programs to accomplish a number of positive outcomes. Many of the current federal programs were developed in response to a 2000 law that required each executive branch agency to establish a telework policy under which eligible employees may participate in telecommuting to the maximum extent possible without diminishing employee performance. The legislative framework has provided OPM and the General Services Administration with lead roles for the governmentwide telework initiative--providing services and resources to support and encourage telework. Although agency telework policies meet common requirements and often share characteristics, each agency is responsible for developing its own policy to fit its mission and culture. In a 2003 report, GAO identified a number of key practices that federal agencies should implement in developing their telework programs. Four of these were closely aligned with managing for program results: (1) developing a business case for telework, (2) establishing measurable telework program goals, (3) establishing systems to collect data for telework program evaluation, and (4) identifying problems and making appropriate adjustments. None of the four agencies we reviewed, however, had effectively implemented any of these practices. In a related review of five other agencies in 2005, GAO reported that none of the agencies had the capacity to track who was actually teleworking or how frequently, relying mostly on the number of telework agreements as the measure of program participation. Consistent definitions and measures related to telework would help agencies better manage for results through their telework programs. For example, program management and oversight could be improved by more consistent definitions, such as eligibility. Some information may take additional efforts to collect, for example, on actual usage of telework rather than employees' potential to telework. However, other valuable information may already be available through existing sources, such as the Federal Human Capital Survey. The survey--which is administered biennially--asks federal employees about their satisfaction with telework, among other things. OPM and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council are well-situated to sort through these issues and consider what information would be most useful. The council and OPM could also work together on strategies for agencies to use the information for program improvements, including benchmarking.

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