Telecommuting: Will the Feds Lead the Way?

There’s a very interesting article in Network World on efforts to implement “Public Law 106-346, which went into effect Oct. 23, 2000, [and] called for agencies to increase telework participation.” Though many agencies have been resisting telework initiatives, a public employee union appears to be getting the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) to require at least one agency (ATF) to increase its level of compliance with the law:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) . . . was ordered by a federal arbitration panel to allow its legal instrument examiners to telework on a pilot basis. ATF was against letting these specialists telework because it says the material they need to remove from agency offices in order to telework posed a security risk.

However, this success may obscure a larger problem in getting the agencies to give their employees more options:

[F]ederal telework adoption is still painfully lagging. Only 9.5% of the more than 1.2 million federal employees who were eligible in 2005 to work from an alternative site did so at least once a month, according to survey data released last year by the Office of Personnel Management.

“The problem is that there’s no uniformity in the federal government. There’s nobody who says, ‘this is the way it’s going to be for everybody,’” [the president and CEO of the Telework Coalition] says. “I think it’s going to take either a catastrophe or some real strength from the top, to push this thing down.”

It will be interesting to see whether federal employees’ unions, or market forces in private sector employment, are most effective at increasing the level of telecommuting. . . especially as fuel prices rise and traffic congestion worsens. As David Brooks (citing Nick Paumgarten) notes, “One in six Americans spends at least 90 minutes a day commuting. The number of Americans who spend more than 180 minutes a day doing it — 3.5 million — has doubled since 1990.”

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