Government ending telework center funding

Joyce Jones of the Department of Education works at a Bowie telework site that will close.
Joyce Jones of the Department of Education works at a Bowie telework site that will close. (Mark Gail)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2011

About a dozen telework sites across the Washington region are losing federal funding.

Roughly 300 federal workers - less than one-tenth of 1 percent of those working in the Washington area - used the "telecenters" in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, according to the General Services Administration. The agency provided about $3 million annually to help fund the sites - or about $10,000 per user.

Funding began in 1993 as the government began promoting the use of alternative work schedules and sites.

But "telework has become less about where work gets done and more about how work gets done," the GSA said in a statement. The wider availability of smartphones and Internet service at home and in public places means that government workers no longer need to rely on a federally funded room of computers.

But the GSA is pushing federal workers to use such technology to work from home when feasible.

In December, President Obama signed a law requiring agencies to appoint a telework manager, who will establish rules mandating wider use of the work-from-home option. Telework advocates say it is an economical and environmentally friendly alternative that will ensure continuity of government operations during bad weather or other emergencies.

The GSA's decision reflects how the telework movement has matured, said Cindy Austen, general manager of the private Telework Exchange.

"This is just one area where telework will really uncover some major cost savings for the government," she said.

Sites in Laurel, Prince Frederick and Waldorf operated by the College of Southern Maryland will close. The facilities served 77 people who worked for federal agencies and private businesses, according to the school.

"This is a difficult time for our teleworkers and our staff, who have developed strong relationships through the years," said Jill Wathen, director of the Southern Maryland Telecommuting Centers. "The teleworkers have benefited tremendously from the convenience of working closer to home."

Keith Segerson, managing director of the Mason Enterprise Center at George Mason University, said the university will continue operating four telework sites in Fairfax, Manassas, Stafford and Woodbridge.

"I'm a taxpayer, and even I thought the expenditure on these facilities was too much," Segerson said.

"Certainly we appreciated the support of GSA, and it was nice to have those centers," he added.

Telework is one of many services provided by the enterprise center. It also offers training and conference rooms and flex office space for small businesses and government agencies.

Teleworking employees hold meetings in conference rooms, Segerson said.

If the federal government ever needs the room, "we're in a position to work for them again," Segerson said.

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