Federal Workforce

Agencies' Policies and Views on Flexiplace in the Federal Government Gao ID: GGD-97-116 July 3, 1997

On the basis of a pilot project that tested flexiplace among more than 500 workers at 13 federal agencies, a January 1993 report from the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration concluded that flexiplace provided significant benefits to participants, worked well with employees who were proven performers, and was ready for governmentwide implementation. GAO reviewed the implementation of flexiplace since completion of the pilot project. This report (1) describes federal efforts to promote flexiplace; (2) reviews federal agencies' policies and the extent to which they permit flexiplace; (3) determines the extent to which federal workers have used flexiplace, as well as the characteristics of these individuals and the work they have done under flexiplace; (4) ascertains whether agencies and federal employees' unions have identified any barriers to flexiplace implementation; and (5) determines whether agencies believe that flexiplace has caused operational difficulties, including abuse of flexiplace.

GAO noted that: (1) the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), General Services Administration (GSA), and Department of Transportation (DOT) have assumed lead roles in promoting flexiplace; (2) in addition, DOT and GSA provide leadership for an interagency working group formed as part of the National Telecommuting Initiative Action Plan in January 1996; (3) a goal of the plan is to increase the number of federal flexiplace participants by the end of fiscal year 1998 to 60,000 or about 3 percent of the federal civilian workforce, a percentage roughly equivalent to conservative estimates of telecommuting in the private sector; (4) DOT also promotes flexiplace and distributes flexiplace literature to the general public as part of its effort to decrease transportation-associated congestion and pollution; (5) the 21 policies GAO reviewed varied in their coverage, generally applying to personnel within individual departmental and independent agencies, one or more federal regions, or specific Department of Defense locations; (6) because of limitations within these policies, however, about 28,000 of the employees covered by flexiplace policies were, in effect, excluded from flexiplace participation; (7) limitations restricted participation to the medically disabled or members of a certain occupation; (8) in contrast, despite the absence of formal policies at five locations GAO visited, some of the managers there permitted flexiplace; (9) flexiplace use appears to have increased since OPM's 1993 estimate of 3,000 to 4,000 participants; (10) a survey completed in July 1996 by the President's Management Council estimated that there were 9,000 telecommuting participants; (11) agency officials told GAO that most flexiplace participants' occupational categories were professional in nature, such as engineer, attorney, management and program analyst, and computer specialist; (12) according to agency officials, writing, reading, telephoning, and computer work were the most common tasks performed by flexiplace participants; (13) agency officials and union representatives identified management resistance as the greatest barrier to implementing flexiplace programs; (14) they also recognized that some jobs do not lend themselves to flexiplace arrangements and cited other barriers, such as a lack of computers at alternative work sites, the handling of sensitive data, employee reluctance or indifference with regard to participation, and the lack of a formal flexiplace policy; and (15) agency officials believed that few operational arose from flexiplace.

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