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Government Managers Resist Telecommuting Plans

By Grant Gross
June 19, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- Top managers are holding back the spread of telecommuting at some government agencies, several officials said during a panel discussion earlier this month.

For government agencies to fully realize the benefits of telecommuting, such top managers need to change their attitudes, said Wendell Joice, head of the U.S. General Services Administration's governmentwide telework team.

"We are hampered by constantly having to beg and plead," said Joice, speaking at a conference called Continuity of Operations Planning in the Federal Government and Industry: Enabling a Mobile Workforce in Times of Crisis. The event, held here, was sponsored by iPass Inc., RSA Security Inc. and research firm Input Inc.

Advocates of telecommuting said it can provide several benefits to employers, including the ability to continue operations during a national disaster or terrorist attack. Telecommuting can also help ease traffic problems in major cities, reduce pollution and increase worker productivity, advocates said.

Benefits Questioned

Nonetheless, some managers remain unconvinced about such potential benefits and about their ability to adequately supervise teleworkers, said James Lewis, a senior fellow and director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"I don't want to dismiss the managers who have concerns here," he said. "What do we need to do to make them happy?"

For example, Lewis said, some of them have cited studies showing that potential savings from telework may not apply to government agencies, which have to give excess funding back to the federal general budget. He also noted that some government agency managers question studies suggesting that teleworkers are more productive.

Embracing telework doesn't have to be hard, said Jack Penkoske, director of manpower, personnel and security at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which must move its base 28 miles from Northern Virginia to Fort Meade in Maryland under military base realignment plans. The agency is allowing more people to telecommute, but it would have done that with or without the move, he said.

The DISA plan aims to accommodate employees and boost recruitment of new workers, Penkoske said.

Gross is a reporter for the IDG News Service.

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.

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