Report: Less than 6% of federal workers telework

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 5:36 PM

New government figures show that few federal workers took advantage of telework options in the year before President Obama signed a bill requiring agencies to develop work-at-home plans.

According to an Office of Personnel Management report submitted to Congress last week, just less than 6 percent of the federal workforce - or 113,946 employees - teleworked in 2009, an increase of more than 11,000 workers from the previous year.

Of those who used the option, more than two-thirds did so at least once a week, OPM said. A majority of teleworkers are women and rank-and-file workers, with few managers taking advantage of the option. Seventy-nine percent of teleworkers are 40 or older and have worked for the government for more than 20 years.

OPM compiled its figures by reviewing its Employee Viewpoint Survey, which tracks federal work satisfaction.

Some agency officials and federal workers unions pushed Congress for years to approve legislation allowing federal employees broader flexibility to work from home when necessary, arguing that the option would cut down on long commutes, increase productivity and keep federal agencies operating in the event of bad weather or terrorist attacks in the Washington area. Obama also argued that the option would help federal agencies stay competitive with private-sector companies that allow employees to work from home.

In his report, OPM Director John Berry said teleworking programs are effective because participants "can only be judged by their results. Those who can't perform and can't improve can't hide behind their desks. It is up to management to give our employees clear direction and support and then trust them to deliver."

The report came as more than 38,000 employees spent at least one day working at home last week to show the financial and environmental benefits of teleworking. Most of the participants were Washington-area federal employees, according to the Telework Exchange, an advocacy group sponsoring the program.

Participants were expected to save more than $2.7 million in commuting costs and about 1,800 tons of emissions, the group said.

Despite the savings, statistics released Thursday suggest that most eligible federal employees still are working within the walls of federal buildings.

In an effort to boost participation levels, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) reintroduced a bill last week that would give tax breaks of up to $1,000 to cover related expenses to teleworkers who use the option at least 75 days a year.

Wittman's 1st District covers portions of Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads region, where traffic remains a big issue, he said. "The recent 'thundersnow' storm, during which many Virginians experienced hours of delay in their commute times, illustrates the need for flexibility in the workplace, and especially the ability to work from the comfort and safety of one's home," he said in a statement.

The option also helps federal employees be more satisfied with their work, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. The group, which maintains a content partnership with The Washington Post, dug into the findings of its Best Places to Work survey. It found that workers not given the option of working from home are the least satisfied in the federal workforce.

Teleworkers also said they thought bosses were holding them accountable for their work to the same degree as those who work at the office - conclusions that appear to dispel the concerns of some federal managers who believe that employees working remotely can't be held responsible for their performance, the report said.

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