The federal government is woefully behind private industry when it comes to enabling telework and the reasons have more to do with managerial intransigence than any realistic security concerns. That's the conclusion of a paper (PDF) released last month by the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, a group of security-focused hardware, software and networking vendors.
Federal efforts are "puny," the group said. While the private sector increased telework by 7.5% from 2003 to 2004, the federal government held steady at 14%. The benefits to telework, the paper says, are substantial. A 2003 Office of Personnel Management report found telework reduces turnover by 20 percentand absenteeism by 60 percent, resulting in savings of $10,000 per employee per year. In addition, productivity improves by 20 percent, agencies are better able to comply with the Clean Air Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and agencies are better able to recruit top candidates. A study at AT&T, which has been offering telework since 1992, found teleworkers are more productive than in-office workers by an hour a day, and the total annual benefit to the enterprise is $150 million.
And there are benefits to the larger society as well, surely part of government's remit: reducing traffic congrestion, air pollution, and energy usage. If the government wants to reduce dependence on foreign oil, a federal commitment to cutting employee fuel consumption would be a good start. In 2000, legislation passed that required agencies to set policies allowing employees to telework to the "maximum extent possible." It was ignored.
With all these benefits, and regulations requiring it, why is the government so slow to embrace telework? The reasons have nothing to do with security, the group argues. Technology for both network security and physical security are readily available. The biggest reason, the report found, was that agencies are not rewarded for operating more efficiently. Unspent budgets must be returned to the federal treasury. Other reasons include lack of funding, lack of clear policies, lack of management support, resistance especially by mid-managers who insist on employees being physically present, and lack of training and information. The report includes several recommendations to improve the situation:
- The President's Management Agenda, which calls for expanding e-government, should specifically include telework.
- All agencies should include telework in their "continuity of operations" planning.
- High-level managers should endorse it. "Commitment from the top must be clear, forceful and sincere," the report says.
- The federal government should encourage state and local governments to adopt telework.
CSIA is sponsoring a forum on the topic later this year in Washington. Check the CSIA website for more details.