Emergency personnel, of course, work no matter what. Increasingly, others, who are not considered emergency personnel, are in a position to work from home. Offices closed not just in Washington, but also in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
“The first and most important issue is making sure we can protect the safety of our employees,” said John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management.
The OPM estimated that about one-third of almost 300,000 federal employees, including emergency staff, in the D.C. area telework when government buildings close because of weather.
But according to the OPM’s latest annual “Status of Telework in the Federal Government” report to Congress, issued in June, less than 8 percent of federal employees telework regularly.
If so many employees can telework when storms close D.C. offices, why don’t more telework on a regular basis?
The OPM report cites “management resistance” as the primary barrier to teleworking, closely followed by technology. But if technology is such an important barrier, how can such a significant percentage of federal workers in the D.C. area telework during storms?
“It is very telling that the federal government appears to have the capacity and capability to go from 8 percent of employees teleworking to approximately 33 percent when the continuity-of-operations plan is put in place,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), a sponsor of the Telework Enhancement Act, which was designed to facilitate telework in the federal government. “This indicates that one of the major barriers to more robust teleworking by a significant segment of federal employees is management related and not due to technology constraints. We still have a mindset among some federal managers that ‘if I can’t see you, you must not be working.’ ”
The OPM is “working closely with agencies to break down these barriers and improve telework opportunities in the federal government,” said Thomas Richards, an OPM spokesman.
Cindy Auten, general manager of Telework Exchange, an organization that promotes teleworking, said “many positions that would not be eligible for regular telework would be eligible to telework during a natural disaster. Just like we are seeing with Hurricane Sandy, maintaining operations is absolutely critical — and telework can have a major impact.
“That being said, this presents a great opportunity for employees to have that conversation for more regular telework,” she added. “Some middle managers are still waiting to see if telework is a storm that will pass or will it be integrated into standard operating procedures.”