Federal Telework: Improved Guidance and Communication on Recording Telework Hours Needed at Veterans Benefits Administration
What GAO Found
Officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) told GAO that recording telework hours for each pay period became a requirement in March 2017 at VA, but the agency does not yet have key controls in place to ensure that employees' telework hours are recorded accurately in the time and attendance system. Specifically, VA has not updated its agency-wide written telework policy and other guidance to reflect the change. Moreover, although VA began communicating the change to timekeepers and telework coordinators--officials who help manage the telework program in each office--it has not taken steps to inform all employees and supervisors throughout the agency. Consequently, as of May 2017, some Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) headquarters officials said they were not aware of the requirement. Federal internal control standards call for management to clearly communicate changes in its programs and activities, such as new requirements, to the appropriate personnel. Without outlining the new requirement to record telework hours in all relevant guidance and communicating it to all employees, some employees' telework hours may not be accurately recorded. GAO's analysis of time and attendance data for Veterans Service Representatives (VSR) and Rating Veterans Service Representatives (RVSR) for pay periods before and after March 2017 confirmed this concern. Specifically, GAO found that almost half of the employees with agreements to regularly telework had no telework hours recorded in VA's time and attendance system (VATAS) in April 2017. Thus, VATAS data were unreliable, incomplete, and therefore, insufficient for us to determine the extent to which employees telework across VBA. Furthermore, VA and VBA did not have plans to monitor whether telework hours are being accurately recorded within VATAS. Federal internal control standards call for management to develop monitoring activities and evaluate the results. Without such monitoring, VA and VBA are limited in their ability to assess the possible impact of telework on employee performance.
VBA has taken some steps to improve oversight of its telework program. Specifically, in May 2017, VBA issued guidance that outlines responsibilities for implementing and managing the program, and to help ensure employee compliance with telework eligibility requirements in VA policy. As part of these responsibilities, VBA management will be required to conduct a comprehensive review of the telework program, which will include monitoring whether employees and supervisors complete mandatory training. However, the recent guidance also does not include monitoring activities to ensure the accurate recording of telework hours in VATAS.
Why GAO Did This Study
As outlined in the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, telework is an arrangement that allows employees to perform their work at an approved alternative worksite. Within VA, VBA is responsible for processing disability compensation claims, and employs about 10,000 VSRs and RVSRs in its 58 regional offices. According to VBA data, more than 50 percent of VSRs and RVSRs had approved telework arrangements in place as of February 2017.
GAO was asked to review VBA's telework policies and practices, and their impact on disability claims processing. This report examines how VBA oversees its telework program, including how it tracks employees' telework hours. GAO reviewed VA and VBA policies and guidance on the oversight and monitoring of telework programs, and interviewed agency officials. GAO also reviewed selected VBA telework data recorded in VATAS in early 2017, and reviewed VBA data on the types of telework agreements VSRs and RVSRs had in place as of February 2017. GAO was unable to determine the impact of telework on disability claims processing because VBA does not have complete or reliable data on employees' telework hours.
GAO is making three recommendations. Specifically, GAO recommends that VA update all relevant policies and guidance to state that employees' telework hours be recorded in VA's time and attendance system, communicate to all VBA regional office employees that hours teleworked should be recorded in this system, and develop a process to monitor the quality of data and to ensure that employees' telework hours are recorded accurately and completely in VATAS. VA stated that it agreed with GAO's three recommendations, and described actions it is taking or plans to take to address each recommendation.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Veterans Affairs||The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration and the Under Secretary for Benefits to review and update all relevant policies and guidance to reflect the agency's requirement that employees' hours teleworked be recorded in VATAS.||
VA agreed with this recommendation and in July 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources Management issued guidance to VA Human Resources (HR) offices on the requirement to record telework data in VA's automated HR system, and to record telework hours in VATAS . In March 2018, VA updated its telework handbook to reflect these requirements.
|Department of Veterans Affairs||The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration and the Under Secretary for Benefits to communicate that telework hours should be recorded in VATAS to VBA regional office employees.||
VA agreed with this recommendation and in August 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration (HR&A) emailed a memo to VA Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, and other key VBA regional office officials that forwarded guidance, issued in July 2017, on the requirement to properly record telework hours in VATAS.
|Department of Veterans Affairs||The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration and the Under Secretary for Benefits to develop a process to monitor the quality of data and to ensure that employees' telework hours are recorded accurately and completely in VATAS.||
VA agreed with this recommendation. In July 2018, VA's Financial Services Center published and distributed telework reporting guidance to VA's local payroll offices instructing them to monitor the quality of data of biweekly VATAS telework reports to ensure that employees telework hours are recorded accurately and completely in VATAS. The guidance also establishes an annual timekeeper audit to verify compliance with the monitoring requirement. In September 2018, VA's Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration issued a bulletin to HR offices outlining the requirement for HR specialists to review and monitor biweekly VATAS telework reports to ensure telework hours are correctly recorded.