The federal telework program is making progress toward meeting its goals to make employees “more efficient, more accountable,  and more resilient in emergency conditions,” according to John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  Berry made these comments in a letter accompanying OPM’s release of the “2012 Status of Telework in the Federal Government” report. 

Berry also said the report shows that agencies are realizing cost savings from telework through avoided real estate costs, energy savings, and savings in computer subsidy costs.

However, the report shows a slow rate of participation in the early stages of the telework program.

OPM asked agencies to report on employee participation in the telework program for the September/October 2011 period.  Based on that survey, OPM determined that roughly one-third of the 2.2 million federal employees were deemed eligible to telework (8 percent of the total federal civilian workforce).  Of these 685,000 eligible employees, over 168,000 (25%) were teleworking. 

A look at the survey results by agency shows that the Treasury Department leads cabinet agency telework participation with 48 percent of eligible employees.  Also having participation rates above 40 percent are the Department of Health and Human Services (42 percent) and the Department of Education (41 percent).  The telework participation rate in the Department of Defense is 27 percent, while the rate at Homeland Security is 10 percent.  The Labor Department reports only four percent of its eligible employees are teleworking.

Low participation is also reflected in survey data on employee telework frequency.  Agencies reported that only 27 percent of teleworkers spent three or more days teleworking. 

Should the low participation rate continue, it could adversely affect the government’s ability to realize maximum cost savings and productivity benefits from teleworking.  “Achieving anticipated benefits requires a substantial portion of eligible Federal employees to participate in telework on a regular, ongoing basis,” the report stressed.

OPM did caution that the results of the survey were affected by a number of challenges normally associated with implementing innovative programs.  These include:  incomplete telework participation goals in some agencies; manager resistance to teleworking; reporting differences among agencies; technical reporting problems; and the lack of a baseline for comparison.  OPM will use the results of this report as a baseline for future reporting.

Looking ahead, OPM will work with agencies to improve data reliability by developing a government-wide set of data collection standards.  OPM will also work with agencies on goal-setting, goal measurement, and evaluation.

The Telework Enhancement Act, signed into law in December 2010, requires agencies to develop a teleworking policy and identify employees eligible to participate.  The bill also gives agencies the authority to conduct telework travel expenses tests to pay travel expenses for teleworking employees who are required to report to the office more than a set number of times.