DISA relocation forces embrace of telework

With Virginia-based employees unwilling to move to DISA's new Maryland home, the agency beefs up telework options, from two days a week to five out of every 10 days.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

The Defense Information Systems Agency is moving from northern Virginia to Fort Meade, MD, as part of a Defense Dept. realignment. That's a problem for the agency's many employees who live in Virginia communities. And so, DISA is embracing telework as a way to avoid losing scores of skilled employees who don't want to uproot their homes and families, The Washington Post reports.

Of the about 2,000 DISA jobs that have been identified as suitable for telecommuting, more than 500 employees have been cleared to work from home.

"I think our numbers for telework will continue to grow, as we get more people comfortable with it," Penkoske said in an interview last week. "We've had a seven-fold increase in the last 10 months, probably a little more than that."

Before the base closing announcement, DISA's policy was for telework one day every two weeks. After the announcement, it was liberalized to two days a week.

Now, DISA employees who qualify to telework and are on a compressed work schedule (80 hours biweekly in less than 10 days) can be out of the office five of 10 work days.

"There are probably going to be more [telework] days being offered as we move down the line," Penkoske said.

Of course network security is a huge concern in a telework program. Under the rules DISA employees will work only on nonclassified material from home. The agency is buying up laptops so equipment shortages aren't a problem, and security measures are beeing beefed up too.

So good for DISA. But will this be the test case that convinces agencies - in Defense or elsewhere - that you don't have to have your offices relocated to take advantage of the productivity and employee retention benefits of telework?

More importantly, telework is a standard practice in the private sector. And the government is facing a major retirement bomb.

Although DISA anticipates that telecommuting will help it keep employees, Penkoske said that telework should also aid in recruiting the next generation of workers, who, by most accounts, are keen on employers that offer flexible work arrangements.

The agency hires about 100 recent college graduates as interns each year and spends $60,000 to $70,000 over three years to train them, an investment that the agency is not eager to lose, Penkoske said.

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