For more federal employees in the national capital area, the first—and last—stop on their commute soon may be inside their own homes.
Federal agencies have been told to be more open-minded in allowing their employees to telework, and to work alternate schedules, in preparation for Metro’s SafeTrack project. That project will cause slowdowns and other disruptions in many sections of the system in stages starting next month and lasting into next spring.
“Agencies should review their policies and procedures on the use of workplace flexibilities during the SafeTrack project to help mitigate commuting disruptions. Employees should also plan on altering their commuting patterns if needed to fulfill their responsibilities,” said a government-wide memo sent Friday by the Office of Personnel Management.
“Agencies should carefully review their current telework arrangements, determine whether employees are eligible to telework, renew telework agreements older than one year, and establish written agreements with interested employees who are eligible to telework,” it says. “This may provide an opportunity for agencies to review and reassess their telework eligibility criteria to determine if changes are needed to their existing programs. Similarly, agencies should review their policies for alternative work schedules.”
The government has a long-standing telework program that has grown steadily over the years, although many federal workers are not eligible to work from home or other alternate sites because of the nature of their work, including security concerns.
According to the most recent OPM report, covering fiscal year 2013, 45 percent of federal employees have been deemed eligible to telework and of those, two-fifths did telework at some time during that 12-month period. Other reports, including an annual survey of federal employees, show differing figures, in part because of varying interpretations of what constitutes telework.
The OPM report also showed that of those who do telework, about half do so only on a situational basis or no more than once a month as a regular practice.
Even with those limits, an increase in telework by federal employees can have a substantial impact on area transit. By a statistical measure that encompasses a region stretching across much of Maryland, Northern Virginia and into West Virginia, there are 273,000 full-time federal employees in the area.
OPM routinely issues notices encouraging more use of telework due to weather emergencies or downtown events — most recently the Nuclear Security Summit March 31-April 1 — that worsen travel.
In its latest memo, OPM also said it has set up an interagency working group to assess the potential impact on employees and agency operations and will issue further guidance and examples of best practices. “Ultimately, individual agencies are best positioned to determine the impact that the SafeTrack project will have on their workforce and therefore agencies should make decisions regarding how to adjust,” the memo said.
“Agencies should immediately begin working with their supervisors, employees, and union representatives to discuss the use of workplace flexibilities and policies for the use of annual leave, leave without pay, previously earned compensatory time off, and/or earned credit hours under a flexible work schedule to alleviate the impact,” it said.
However, it said that use of “excused absence”—paid time off without charge to leave—should be limited. That practice, also called administrative leave, has come under heavy scrutiny from Congress in recent years, with several proposals pending to reduce its use.