B ig events, like the services for former president Ronald Reagan, are a staple of life in Washington. And most employees summon their patience and put up with disruptions to their commuting routines.
But working from home, via computers and telephones, is a way to stay on the job and also avoid snarled traffic and jammed subway trains.
Unfortunately, too few federal employees get to telecommute.
According to a survey released last month, only 6 percent of federal employees work from home or a telework center at least one day a week. The survey covered 74 agencies with more than 1.7 million employees.
Still, there was a glimpse of progress in the survey, conducted by the Office of Personnel Management. Although the percentage remains small, the number of federal employees who are telecommuting has doubled in less than three years.
Federal agencies told OPM that they had 102,921 telecommuters as of October 2003. That's up from 90,010 in October 2002 and significantly higher than the 43,389 telecommuters counted in OPM's first survey, in April 2001.
Kay Coles James, the OPM director, said the numbers show "how far we've already come" but also point out "that there is work that needs to be done to reach our telework goals -- goals that I know we will achieve."
By now, three out of four employees deemed eligible by their agencies are supposed to have the opportunity to telecommute, according to a directive sponsored by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and approved by Congress four years ago.
But a number of agencies appear reluctant to permit employees to work from home or at regional telework centers sponsored by the General Services Administration.
The OPM report listed 20 agencies where less than 2 percent of the employees telecommute, and said at least eight agencies did not make at least $50,000 available to pay for employee use of telework centers, as required under law.
Wolf, who views a robust telecommuting program in the government as a way to cut traffic congestion and pollution in the Washington area, is looking for ways to hold agencies accountable and has floated the idea of cutting budgets at agencies that do not show meaningful participation in the federal telework program, Wolf spokesman Dan Scandling said.
Although most agencies have adopted telecommuting policies and identified large numbers of employees as eligible for telework, the OPM report suggests that agencies need to take telecommuting more seriously.
"Federal agencies bear responsibility for their own programs, and can do more to assure that as many employees as possible participate in telework," the report said.
Agencies have moved slowly on telecommuting because of concerns that employees who work at home or in telework centers may be less productive and because federal managers are not comfortable with the concept, the OPM report said.
A Day Off, by the Book
Because the president's executive order closing the government tomorrow falls within the scope of certain sections of civil service law, the day is being treated as an official holiday for pay and leave purposes, James said in a memo to agency heads.
That means federal employees who are required to work tomorrow will receive holiday pay, an OPM spokesman said. But there are exceptions. Employees who are required to attend training tomorrow are not entitled to holiday premium pay, OPM said.
The day off complicates life for some federal employees who are on flexible work schedules, such as pay periods composed of eight nine-hour days and one eight-hour day. Employees on flexible work schedules will have today as their "in lieu of" holiday if they were already scheduled to be off tomorrow.
But many will likely consult their supervisors on how to schedule their work hours. Because a holiday is treated as an eight-hour day, some employees on flexible schedules will either have to find a way to get in an extra hour of work tomorrow or use one hour of annual leave or take leave without pay.
This week's day off follows the Memorial Day holiday, which has already led some employees to adjust their time in the office to make up for that day off.