oversight

Federal Workforce: Agencies' Policies and Views on Flexiplace in the Federal Government

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-07-03.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to the Ranking Minority Member,
                 Subcommittee on Civil Service,
                 Committee on Government Reform and
                 Oversight, House of Representatives

July 1997
                 FEDERAL
                 WORKFORCE
                 Agencies’ Policies and
                 Views on Flexiplace in
                 the Federal
                 Government




GAO/GGD-97-116
              United States
GAO           General Accounting Office
              Washington, D.C. 20548

              General Government Division

              B-272880

              July 3, 1997

              The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings
              Ranking Minority Member
              Subcommittee on Civil Service
              Committee on Government Reform
                and Oversight
              House of Representatives

              Dear Mr. Cummings:

              In January 1993, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the
              General Services Administration (GSA) issued a report summarizing the
              results of a pilot that began in 1990 and tested the concept of working at
              locations other than the traditional government office. This concept, then
              known as flexiplace in the federal government and telecommuting in the
              private sector, was tested by over 500 federal employees from 13 agencies.
              The report, which focused on working at home, concluded that flexiplace
              provided significant benefits to participants, worked well with employees
              who were proven performers, and was ready for governmentwide
              implementation.

              This report responds to a request by Representative James P. Moran, the
              former Ranking Minority Member, that we review the implementation of
              flexiplace since completion of the pilot. Specifically, we agreed to
              (1) describe federal efforts to promote flexiplace; (2) review federal
              agencies’ policies and the extent to which they permit flexiplace;
              (3) determine the extent to which federal employees have used flexiplace,
              as well as the characteristics of these employees and the work they have
              done under flexiplace; (4) ascertain whether agencies and federal
              employees’ unions have identified any barriers that inhibit flexiplace
              implementation; and (5) determine whether agencies believe that
              flexiplace has caused operational difficulties, including abuse of
              flexiplace.


              The term “flexiplace” was initially coined during the pilot as an
Scope and     abbreviation for “flexible workplace.” Since the completion of the
Methodology   flexiplace pilot, OPM has adopted the term “telecommuting” to define
              workplace arrangements that allow an employee to work away from the
              traditional work site, either at home or at another approved alternative
              location. Although the terms “flexiplace” and “telecommuting” are often
              used interchangeably, for the purposes of this report, we use the term



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flexiplace only when describing work arrangements that are consistent
with OPM’s definition. We found this restrictiveness to be necessary
because some federal officials attach a meaning to the term
telecommuting other than that which is contemplated by OPM’s definition.
The other meaning attached to the term involves traditional management
decentralization initiatives, such as the establishment of local offices that
produce benefits (including improved customer services and satisfaction)
without necessarily being more geographically convenient to the
employees providing the services.

In developing this report, we obtained general information on flexiplace
policies and views on flexiplace use from officials in the 17 departments
and independent federal agencies1 with the greatest numbers of
employees. Collectively, these departments and agencies employ about
95 percent of federal employees. From these 17 departments and agencies,
we then judgmentally selected 5 departments and 3 independent agencies
for a more detailed review, which forms the basis of this report. Our
intention in selecting this sample was to include departments and
independent agencies that (1) employed a large number of federal civilian
personnel, (2) varied in the nature and extent of their experience with
flexiplace, and (3) permitted examination of any variances in flexiplace
policies and efforts to promote flexiplace. We did not attempt to
determine, however, the extent to which flexiplace arrangements could or
should have been undertaken or the effectiveness of existing
arrangements. Because we did not use a representative sample, the results
of this review cannot be projected to the entire federal workforce.

We identified and analyzed 21 policy documents from the departments and
agencies selected and visited and interviewed agency officials in 26
locations, mostly in agencies’ headquarters and in their field offices in
Denver and San Francisco. The agency officials we interviewed were
either flexiplace coordinators or other personnel knowledgeable about
flexiplace in their agencies, and they predominantly worked in human
resources departments, although a lesser number were program or office
managers. During these interviews, we gathered information on the extent
of flexiplace use, agencies’ identification of barriers to implementing
flexiplace, and agency officials’ views on operational difficulties
attributable to flexiplace. We did not seek to question or verify either the

1
 For the purpose of this report, the term “department” refers to cabinet level organizations within the
executive branch, such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Labor
(DOL). “Agency” refers to either the next organizational subdivision within these departments, such as
the Federal Highway Administration within DOT, or an independent agency within the executive
branch, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).



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                   perceptions held by agency officials or the data provided on the use of
                   flexiplace. In addition, we interviewed nine union representatives to solicit
                   their views on flexiplace, and interviewed OPM, GSA, and DOT officials in
                   Washington, D.C., to identify federal efforts to promote flexiplace. We also
                   visited telecenters (which are facilities for use by the employees of many
                   agencies as alternative work sites) in Virginia and California. Appendix I
                   describes in detail the objectives, scope, and methodology of our review.

                   Our review was conducted from June 1996 to May 1997 in accordance with
                   generally accepted government auditing standards. We provided a draft of
                   this report to the heads of the departments and agencies discussed in this
                   report for their review and comments. Their comments are summarized at
                   the end of this report.


                   OPM, GSA, and DOT have assumed lead roles in promoting flexiplace. OPM
Results in Brief   promotes awareness of flexiplace, provides guidance on its
                   implementation, and distributes the results of its research on flexiplace.
                   GSA manages and markets federal telecenters. 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. 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. DOT also promotes flexiplace and
                   distributes flexiplace literature to the general public as part of its effort to
                   decrease transportation-associated congestion and pollution.

                   The 21 policies we 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 (DOD)
                   locations. Although none of the five departments we contacted had
                   blanket written policies that covered all employees in all geographic
                   locations, five agencies within three departments and two independent
                   agencies we contacted had such agencywide policies.

                   About half of the nearly 99,100 employees at the locations we visited were
                   covered by formal flexiplace policies. Because of limitations within these
                   policies, however, about 28,000 of the employees covered by flexiplace
                   policies were, in effect, excluded from flexiplace participation. Limitations
                   restricted participation to the medically disabled or members of a certain
                   occupation. In contrast, despite the absence of formal policies at five



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locations we visited, some of the managers there permitted flexiplace. This
resulted in the majority of the employees at these locations who were not
covered by a policy, in effect, having the potential to participate in
flexiplace.

Flexiplace use appears to have increased since OPM’s 1993 estimate of
3,000 to 4,000 participants. A survey completed in July 1996 by the
President’s Management Council (PMC)2 estimated that there were 9,000
telecommuting participants. This number included participants who would
fit within a broader definition of telecommuting, but on the other hand, it
did not include all participants that would meet OPM’s definition. Aside
from the PMC estimates, at the 26 locations we visited, agencies estimated
that about 4,700, or nearly 5 percent of their employees, participated in
flexiplace. We did not determine whether the flexiplace arrangements we
observed represented the universe of available opportunities or whether
they were effective.

Agency officials told us that most flexiplace participants’ occupational
categories were professional in nature, such as engineer, attorney,
management and program analyst, and computer specialist. Officials
reported the use of both regularly scheduled and episodic flexiplace—the
latter for completing short-term project-based work. According to agency
officials, writing, reading, telephoning, and computer work were the most
common tasks performed by flexiplace participants.

Agency officials and union representatives identified management
resistance as the greatest barrier to implementing flexiplace programs.
They reported that many managers had to see their employees to believe
they were working, as opposed to managing by results. 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.

Agency officials believed that few operational difficulties arose from
flexiplace. They cited only a few isolated instances of abuse of the

2
 The PMC was established in 1993 to advise and assist the President and Vice President in ensuring
that the reforms adopted as a result of the National Performance Review (a study that recommended
ways to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and improve customer service to taxpayers) are
implemented throughout the executive branch. This council is chaired by the Deputy Director for
Management of the Office of Management and Budget, and members include the chief operating
officers of 18 executive branch agencies, the Director of OPM, the Administrator of GSA, the Secretary
of the Cabinet, and other officials as designated by the President.



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             program. One official said that the use of flexiplace caused a drop in
             productivity, while several others believed productivity increased as a
             result of flexiplace. Similarly, agency officials cited few problems with
             contacting flexiplace participants at alternative work sites or coordinating
             their schedules, and these problems were subsequently solved.


             No specific statute exists that explicitly authorizes or forbids flexiplace.
Background   OPM has administratively determined that agencies can develop and
             implement flexiplace programs. President Clinton has also encouraged
             agencies to develop family-friendly programs, including flexiplace, through
             memorandums addressed to the heads of executive agencies in 1994 and
             1996.

             OPM  and GSA established instructional guidelines in 1990 to assist agencies
             in implementing flexiplace programs. These guidelines recommended that
             an agency should first identify reasons for establishing a program, and that
             program benefits should accrue to both the employer and the employee.
             According to OPM and GSA, reasons for agencies to establish flexiplace
             programs include improved recruiting and retention of employees,
             increased productivity, and a reduced need for office space. Reasons for
             employees to participate in flexiplace include the opportunity to reduce
             commuting time; lowered personal costs in areas such as transportation,
             parking, food, and wardrobe; improvement in the quality of worklife and
             morale accruing from the opportunity to balance work and family
             demands; and removal of barriers for those with disabilities who want to
             be part of the workforce. OPM and GSA guidelines stressed the fact that
             flexiplace is not a substitute for child care because young children can
             frequently produce distractions that prevent the successful completion of
             work at home.

             OPM updated the 1990 guidelines in 1993. In this update, OPM asserted that
             flexiplace is a management option rather than an employee benefit, and
             that flexiplace should be voluntary and should not change the terms and
             conditions of employment. OPM recommended that agencies develop
             written policies and procedures, appoint a flexiplace coordinator, conduct
             training sessions for flexiplace employees and their supervisors, and
             establish written work agreements that schedule flexiplace episodes.
             Although flexiplace is a management option, OPM recognized that under 5
             U.S.C. Chapter 71, labor unions representing employees have the right to
             negotiate on the manner in which flexiplace programs are implemented
             and on the impact of programs on employees.



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                     OPM cautioned agencies that the nature of the work, together with the
                     characteristics of both the employee and supervisor, must be suitable for
                     flexiplace. OPM defined suitable work as tasks that can be conducted
                     independently of the work location for at least part of the week. Work that
                     requires extensive face-to-face contact, according to OPM, is generally
                     unsuited for flexiplace. OPM also said that employees who participate in
                     flexiplace programs should be well organized, highly disciplined
                     self-starters who require little supervision and who have received at least
                     fully successful ratings. OPM recommended that supervisors should be
                     comfortable with managing by results rather than by observation.


                     Since its January 1993 report on the results of the flexiplace pilot, OPM has
Federal Efforts to   continued to promote flexiplace to other federal departments and
Promote Flexiplace   agencies. OPM maintains a Work and Family Program Center to promote
                     flexiplace awareness by publishing leaflets on flexiplace resources, writing
                     about flexiplace in newsletters, operating a computer bulletin board to
                     disseminate and exchange flexiplace information, and offering workshops
                     on flexiplace. OPM has also published descriptive brochures on flexiplace,
                     continues to make available to federal agencies the results of the
                     flexiplace pilot, and has recognized other agencies with awards for
                     promoting work and family programs, including flexiplace. In addition,
                     OPM has disseminated information through direct mailings to personnel
                     directors and heads of executive departments and agencies.

                     Also since 1993, GSA has promoted flexiplace through the establishment,
                     management, and marketing of facilities that provide alternative office
                     settings for federal employees who would otherwise travel longer
                     distances to work. These facilities, known as telecenters, are equipped
                     with modern workstations, telephones, computers, modems, and facsimile
                     machines, and are generally shared by employees of multiple agencies.
                     Initially established in Maryland and Virginia by fiscal year 1993
                     appropriations, federal telecenters were also established in Oklahoma
                     City; Seattle; Chicago; Atlanta; Charles Town, West Virginia; and a number
                     of northern and southern California communities. GSA has also established
                     partnerships with local and municipal governments to arrange for the use
                     of their telecenters by federal employees. A more detailed discussion of
                     federal telecenters appears in appendix II of this report.

                     Flexiplace gained additional promotional emphasis in 1993 as a result of a
                     National Performance Review recommendation that the President issue a
                     directive requiring agencies to implement flexiplace policies. The



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President’s July 1994 memorandum to the heads of executive departments
and agencies had a family-friendly focus and encouraged these
departments and agencies to develop flexible work arrangements,
including flexiplace, and to adopt appropriate policies. Through a similar
memorandum in 1997, Vice President Gore also encouraged agencies to
increase opportunities to telecommute.

Federal efforts to promote flexiplace were also linked to the Climate
Change Action Plan issued by the President and Vice President in
October 1993. The plan was, in part, a response to the threat of global
warming and outlined directives aimed at decreasing U.S. greenhouse gas
emissions, including transportation-associated pollution. One of these
directives instructed DOT to implement a federal flexiplace pilot project
with the goal of inducing 1 to 2 percent of federal employees to work at
home at least 1 day per week. Since the plan’s inception, DOT has promoted
flexiplace by publishing and distributing information to the public on
flexiplace and by assisting GSA and the PMC in their efforts to promote
flexiplace.

In response to the Climate Change Action Plan, the PMC developed the
National Telecommuting Initiative Action Plan in January 1996. The plan,
developed by an Interagency Telecommuting Working Group cochaired by
DOT and GSA, calls for increasing the number of federal telecommuters to
60,000 by the end of fiscal year 1998. This goal represents about 3 percent
of the federal civilian workforce, a percentage roughly equivalent to
conservative estimates of participation in the private sector. The plan is a
multiphased project that calls for estimating current telecommuting
participation, assessing logistics, promoting telecommuting, and
implementing programs and pilots. Other members of the Working Group
are the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Defense, Education, Energy,
Health and Human Services, the Interior, State, and Veterans Affairs; and
EPA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration (SSA),
and OPM.

In June 1996, President Clinton issued a memorandum to heads of
executive departments and agencies reaffirming his commitment to
federal telecommuting usage. He also adopted the PMC’s national goal of
achieving 60,000 federal telecommuters by the end of fiscal year 1998 and
directed executive departments and agencies to review, develop, utilize,
and expand opportunities for telecommuting so that the PMC’s goal would
be attained.




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                              The 21 flexiplace policies we reviewed generally applied to employees in
Flexiplace Coverage           individual departmental or independent agencies, or in specific federal
Varied by                     regions or locations, rather than to all employees in a department. About
Organization                  one-half of the employees at the 26 locations we visited were covered by
                              flexiplace policies, but the majority of covered employees were in effect
                              excluded from participating by some type of limitation in the policies.
                              Some policies limited participation to employees who were medically
                              disabled or in a specific occupation. In addition, policies generally
                              prescribed the type of work to be done as tasks which could be performed
                              away from the office and which were quantifiable or measurable.


Most Policies Covered         Most of the policies we reviewed varied in their coverage. Of the 21
Offices in Specific Federal   policies we reviewed, 14 applied to personnel either within
Regions or Locations          (1) headquarters, (2) a specific federal region, (3) more than one federal
                              region, or (4) specific DOD locations. In headquarters, for example, DOL’s
                              policy covered only selected Local Union 12 bargaining unit employees,
                              within a flexiplace pilot, who worked in the Washington, D.C., area. Also,
                              only EPA employees working in offices within federal regions 8 and 9 were
                              covered by the EPA’s federal region 8 and 9 policies, respectively. In
                              contrast to EPA’s regional policies, the DOT Office of Motor Carriers’ policy
                              covered employees in offices within all federal regions. In addition, the
                              Naval Air Weapons Center’s policy that we reviewed applied only to
                              employees working at the Point Mugu, California, location. These 14
                              policies are described in tables III.2, III.3, III.4, and III.5.

                              Although none of the policies were departmentwide in coverage, five
                              agencies within three departments and two independent agencies had
                              agencywide policies that covered all their employees in all geographic
                              locations. These agencies were the Federal Aviation, Federal Highway,
                              and Federal Railroad Administrations within DOT; the Natural Resources
                              Conservation Service within USDA; the Defense Finance and Accounting
                              Service within DOD; GSA; and SSA. These seven policies are described in
                              table III.1.


Policy Limitations Affected   Although about 47,000 (47 percent) of the nearly 99,100 employees at the
Flexiplace Participation      26 locations we visited were covered by formal flexiplace policies, about
                              28,000 of these employees were in effect excluded from participation
                              because of limitations within policies. For example, two of the policies we
                              reviewed limited flexiplace participants mainly to medically disabled
                              employees, which in effect excluded most employees covered by the



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                             policy from actually participating at any given point in time. To illustrate,
                             of the estimated 4,000 employees in Denver who were covered by the
                             Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s policy, 3 individuals who were
                             disabled were allowed to temporarily work at home for periods during
                             1994 to 1996. Similarly, according to agency records, fewer than 25 of the
                             13,305 SSA headquarters employees participated under the flexiplace policy
                             that limited participation to those with certain medical conditions.

                             In addition, one policy that we reviewed limited participation to
                             employees in a specific occupation. The memorandum of understanding
                             between the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and SSA
                             management limited participation to attorney advisors in SSA’s Office of
                             Hearings and Appeals.

                             In the five locations we visited that had no formal flexiplace policies, the
                             majority of the employees nevertheless had the potential ability to
                             participate in flexiplace arrangements. For example, approximately 6,000
                             EPA headquarters employees were not covered by a formal policy because
                             their unions had not yet approved management’s draft policy. Agency
                             officials told us, however, that they generally allowed flexiplace
                             participation and that about 50 headquarters employees occasionally
                             worked at home under guidelines from a previous pilot. In contrast, about
                             4,662 employees in three of the five locations that were not covered by
                             flexiplace policies worked in offices where agency officials said they
                             generally did not permit employees to participate in flexiplace.


Flexiplace Policies          In addition to containing restrictions that excluded employees from
Generally Prescribed Types   participating in flexiplace, most agency policies specified the type of work
of Work and Work             employees could perform while on flexiplace and the types of work
                             arrangements that were permissible. Ten of the policies we reviewed
Arrangements                 specified the type of work that could be done while on flexiplace as tasks
                             that could be accomplished away from the traditional office. In addition, 6
                             of these 10 also specified that work had to be quantifiable or measurable.

                             Nineteen of the 21 policies we reviewed also specified the nature of
                             flexiplace arrangements permitted. GSA and EPA recognized two basic types
                             of arrangements: regular flexiplace, in which employees are to work a
                             certain number of regularly scheduled days each week at an alternative
                             workplace, and episodic flexiplace, in which employees are to work away
                             from the office on a temporary basis for short periods of time to complete
                             discrete projects. Twelve of the policies we reviewed permitted only



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                            regular flexiplace, while two policies allowed only episodic flexiplace, and
                            five policies permitted both regular and episodic flexiplace. About an
                            equal number of agencies reported that their personnel participated in
                            episodic arrangements as opposed to regular arrangements, despite fewer
                            policies permitting episodic flexiplace.


                            The PMC estimated that about 9,000 federal employees out of
Extent of Flexiplace        approximately 2 million executive branch employees, or less than
Usage                       0.5 percent, telecommuted in 1996. Although this estimate may not directly
                            correlate with the 1993 estimated flexiplace participants, flexiplace
                            participation does appear to have increased from the 3,000 to 4,000
                            estimated by OPM in 1993.

                            Unrelated to the PMC’s estimate, agency estimates showed that nearly
                            5 percent of employees participated in flexiplace at agency locations we
                            visited. Participation at these locations may have been higher than in the
                            federal government in general because we purposely selected some
                            locations that had active flexiplace programs.

                            Agency officials reported that employees used flexiplace primarily for
                            personal benefits but also to avoid office interruptions. These employees,
                            according to agency officials, were in professional occupations, and they
                            carried out such tasks as writing, reading, telephoning, and working on the
                            computer while on flexiplace.


Flexiplace Use Appears to   A survey completed in July 1996 by the PMC’s Interagency Telecommuting
Have Increased              Working Group indicated that telecommuting had increased since the
                            completion of the flexiplace pilot in 1993. This survey requested members
                            of the PMC and a number of smaller agencies to estimate the number of
                            their telecommuting participants. From estimates supplied by 33 agencies,
                            the PMC estimated that, governmentwide, 9,000 federal employees were
                            telecommuting.

                            The PMC estimate included participants who would fit within a broader
                            definition of telecommuters but did not include all flexiplace participants.
                            For example, SSA used PMC’s definition, which in some respects was
                            broader than OPM’s. Under that definition, SSA reported a total of 1,939
                            telecommuters, including 800 personnel working at contact stations,
                            which are small temporary SSA offices designed to directly serve the
                            public, and 1,000 administrative law judges who traveled to various



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hearing offices. An SSA official said SSA counted administrative law judges
and personnel working at contact stations as telecommuters because it
considered these employees to be included in the mobile/virtual office
category of the PMC’s telecommuting definition. This category consists of
the activities of field representatives, mobile managers, inspectors, and
traveling technical support employees—those who may work in multiple
locations or environments, including customer sites, hotels, cars, or at
home. According to an SSA official, these employees contribute to
decreasing air pollution and traffic congestion and to increasing customer
service, all of which are among the goals of PMC’s National Telecommuting
Initiative.

Conversely, DOL did not include all flexiplace participants in the estimate it
supplied to the PMC. DOL’s estimate, which was used in the PMC estimate of
9,000 telecommuters, consisted entirely of 581 formal participants in 2
ongoing flexiplace pilots. Realizing that this estimate did not include a
large number of field safety inspectors who were informally participating,
DOL subsequently resurveyed the number of participants and determined
that the total number of participants was actually 3,426.

We also asked officials at the 26 locations we visited to estimate the
number of their flexiplace participants, using OPM’s definition. According
to the information they provided, nearly 5 percent of the approximately
99,100 employees at the 26 agency locations we visited participated in
flexiplace. This information is summarized in figure 1 and presented for
each of the 26 locations in appendix IV.




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Figure 1: Flexiplace Participation at
Locations Visited                                                                        4.9% Participants in flexiplace a
                                                                                              (4,700)




                                                              95.1%




                                                                                         Nonparticipants
                                                                                         (94,400)
                                                 N = 99,100

                                        a
                                            Participants include both those covered and those not covered by formal policies.


                                        Source: GAO analysis.




Flexiplace Reportedly                   Agency officials told us that employees’ use of flexiplace arrangements
Associated With Various                 had various benefits. They said that employees reported benefiting by an
Benefits                                increase in their productivity and morale, and a decrease in their
                                        commuting time, interruptions, sick leave use, and personal costs. Some
                                        agency officials said that flexiplace resulted in a decreased need for office
                                        space, an increased ability to recruit and retain employees, lessened
                                        environmental impacts, and greater opportunities for disabled employees.

                                        Often cited by agency officials as one of the main reasons for using
                                        flexiplace, productivity gains of professional staff are reportedly difficult
                                        to define, much less measure. Yet some organizations and some agencies
                                        we visited were able to measure productivity gains among some of their
                                        staff who used flexiplace. For data entry clerks, computer programmers,
                                        and word processors who produce measurable outputs, productivity gains
                                        in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent are attributed to telecommuting in
                                        the literature. Similarly, within SSA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals in Salt
                                        Lake City, a manager documented a 25-percent increase in the number of




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                            cases prepared by hearing assistants who worked under flexiplace
                            arrangements. During OPM’s pilot, supervisors reported that 39 percent of
                            their staff on flexiplace showed improved work output, and that
                            10 percent or fewer showed a decrease in output. Similarly, the combined
                            results of DOL’s 2 pilots showed that 32 percent of the 238 supervisors
                            believed that staff increased their quantity of work as a result of flexiplace,
                            as opposed to about 14 percent who believed quantity dropped.
                            Seventy-three percent of the 426 employees in these pilots believed their
                            quantity of work increased under flexiplace.

                            Agency officials we spoke with also reported reasons cited by employees
                            for not using flexiplace. The most common reason cited was a feeling of
                            isolation while working at home. Other reasons agency officials reported
                            were the perception by employees that flexiplace could be career limiting,
                            the presence of family members at home who would interrupt their work,
                            the lack of adequate work space at home, and a lack of self-discipline.
                            They told us that the best flexiplace participants are disciplined
                            self-starters who need little supervision.


Flexiplace Was Reportedly   Agency officials said that most employees using flexiplace were in
Used Primarily by           professional occupations. They told us that the staff members most
Professionals               frequently using flexiplace were employed as engineers and engineering
                            technicians, attorneys and paralegals, program and management analysts,
                            computer personnel, investigators, and inspectors. Agency officials also
                            said that flexiplace was used by personnel specialists, scientists,
                            administrative personnel, technical information specialists, contract
                            personnel, budget and financial analysts, accountants, architects, and
                            employee development specialists.

                            According to agency officials, employees reported that writing, reading,
                            telephoning, and computer work were the most common tasks
                            accomplished while on flexiplace. Other tasks that agency officials
                            reported participants doing on flexiplace included analysis, reviewing and
                            evaluating, preparing legal briefs and decisions, planning, and researching.




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                           Agency officials and union representatives told us that management
Management                 resistance was the largest barrier to implementing flexiplace programs.
Resistance Was Cited       They explained that some managers and supervisors resisted allowing
as the Largest Barrier     staff to participate in flexiplace because they did not believe that
                           employees were working unless they could see them. Almost half of the
to Implementing            agency officials and union representatives that we interviewed cited lack
Flexiplace                 of adequate equipment, such as computers and dedicated phone lines in
                           the home, as a barrier. Fewer of them identified the nature of the job and
                           handling of sensitive data as barriers. We did not attempt to determine the
                           accuracy or appropriateness of these views.


Management Resistance      Management resistance has been frequently cited as an obstacle in the
Cited Most Frequently as   literature on telecommuting in the private sector, and it was recognized as
Barrier to Flexiplace      a major impediment in the 1993 report on the flexiplace pilot. In their
                           training guide for managing telecommuters, GSA and DOT pointed out that
                           the role of management has changed from managing by observation to
                           managing by results and that managers who resisted this change faced a
                           major challenge in embracing flexiplace.

                           Agency officials and union representatives we interviewed cited
                           management resistance as the largest barrier to implementing flexiplace
                           programs. Management resistance was cited as the largest barrier by 16 of
                           the 28 agency officials and 7 of the 9 union representatives we
                           interviewed. All but nine of the agency officials and all but two of the
                           union representatives we interviewed said that management resistance
                           was a problem in implementing flexiplace programs.

                           Because OPM recommended that flexiplace participants be self-starters
                           who need little supervision, several agency officials questioned why
                           managers were resistant. They said that the behavior and work ethic of
                           employees did not change when they worked at home, so managers should
                           not worry about their ability to supervise these employees while they were
                           on flexiplace. In the surveys of supervisors participating in DOL’s 2
                           flexiplace pilots, 77 percent of the 237 respondents reported that
                           supervising an employee on flexiplace was about the same as, or
                           compared favorably with, supervising the same employee prior to
                           flexiplace.

                           Several agency officials told us they had had success in overcoming
                           management resistance by training supervisors or by exposing them to
                           flexiplace arrangements. Supervisors in the DOL pilots mentioned earlier



                           Page 14                       GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
                          B-272880




                          were both trained and exposed firsthand to flexiplace, and 73 percent of
                          them said that they would want their staff to continue working under a
                          flexiplace arrangement if given the opportunity.


Other Barriers to         Although never cited as the largest barrier to implementing flexiplace, a
Implementing Flexiplace   lack of adequate equipment was identified as a barrier by 12 of the 28
Also Cited by Agency      agency officials and 4 of the 9 union representatives we interviewed.
                          Agency officials said that budgetary constraints prevented them from
Officials                 buying computers and modems for flexiplace participants and from
                          installing secondary phone lines in their homes for accessing the agency’s
                          local area network. Some agencies solved this problem in part by lending
                          participants surplus computers and laptops.

                          Five of the 28 agency officials and 1 of the 9 union representatives
                          believed that the nature of the job was a barrier to implementing
                          flexiplace. They explained that some jobs, like receptionist and some
                          clerical positions, required extensive face-to-face interaction with the
                          public and with other employees and therefore were not amenable to
                          flexiplace. Other jobs, such as air traffic controller and janitor, were
                          site-dependent and could not be performed at alternative work sites.
                          However, they said that most jobs had some tasks that could be performed
                          away from the traditional office, and some managers suggested grouping
                          these tasks into a single day to allow for a flexiplace arrangement.

                          Five of the agency officials and one of the union representatives we
                          interviewed said that the handling of sensitive data was a barrier. SSA
                          officials said that claims representatives in the Office of Operations
                          worked daily with databases containing financial information on
                          applicants and that they believed the public would feel uncomfortable
                          knowing that employees were using these data at home. These officials
                          said that the databases could be accessed securely from employees’
                          homes, but that security measures would be expensive to install.

                          Barriers less commonly cited by agency officials and union representatives
                          included lack of a flexiplace policy, burdensome paperwork, and
                          employee reluctance or indifference. Lack of a flexiplace policy was also
                          cited as a barrier for some of the agencies that had no policy but
                          nevertheless had a few flexiplace participants. Burdensome paperwork,
                          according to agency officials, was associated with participants completing
                          flexiplace work agreements. Employee reluctance reportedly arose from
                          employees fearing that flexiplace participants were at a disadvantage for



                          Page 15                       GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
                    B-272880




                    promotions because they were seen less in the office. Agency officials
                    suggested these barriers could be overcome by establishing flexiplace
                    policies, keeping associated paperwork to a minimum, and managing by
                    results rather than by observation.


                    Agency officials reported few operational difficulties as a result of
Few Operational     flexiplace arrangements. Although agency officials told us that some
Difficulties Were   managers initially feared participants would abuse flexiplace
Attributed to       arrangements, these officials reported few instances of abuse. Of the
                    approximately 4,700 personnel who were participating in flexiplace at the
Flexiplace          office locations we reviewed, agency officials mentioned only 6 definitive
                    instances of abuse. Similarly, few problems with contacting employees,
                    securing their attendance for important meetings, or coordinating
                    employee coverage of the office at critical times were reported. Only one
                    agency official said that productivity decreased as a result of flexiplace,
                    whereas, as discussed previously, several officials believed that
                    productivity increased.

                    The majority of these agency officials were flexiplace coordinators within
                    human resource departments and office or program managers. Due to time
                    constraints, we did not contact individual supervisors who would have had
                    more direct experience with supervising employees participating in
                    flexiplace arrangements.


                    The Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Housing and Urban
Agency Comments     Development (HUD), Labor, and Transportation, as well as EPA, GSA, OPM,
                    and SSA, provided oral comments on a draft of this report. The agencies
                    generally agreed with the report’s contents. GSA and SSA suggested that we
                    point out that the PMC and OPM define telecommuting somewhat
                    differently. We made revisions to various sections of the report to account
                    for the different definitions. Some agencies provided comments of a
                    technical nature, or to clarify points, which we have incorporated where
                    appropriate.


                    We are sending copies of this report to Representative James P. Moran, the
                    original requestor; the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Service,
                    House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight; other interested
                    congressional committees and members; the Secretaries of the
                    Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Housing and Urban Development,



                    Page 16                       GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
B-272880




Labor, and Transportation; the Administrator of the General Services
Administration; the Directors of the Office of Management and Budget and
the Office of Personnel Management; the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration; and other interested parties. We will also make
copies available to others upon request.

Major contributors to this report are listed in appendix V. If you have any
questions about this report, please contact me on (202) 512-8676.

Sincerely yours,




L. Nye Stevens
Director
Federal Management and
   Workforce Issues




Page 17                       GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Contents



Letter                                                                                                1


Appendix I                                                                                           20

Objectives, Scope,
and Methodology
Appendix II                                                                                          24
                        History                                                                      24
Telecenters             Costs of Washington, D.C., Area Centers                                      25
                        Benefits                                                                     25
                        Use                                                                          26
                        Other Federal Telecenter Initiatives                                         27

Appendix III                                                                                         29

Agencies’ Policies
Reviewed
Appendix IV                                                                                          33

Flexiplace Use
Reported by Agency
Officials Within
Locations Visited and
Contacted
Appendix V                                                                                           34

Major Contributors to
This Report
Tables                  Table III.1: Flexiplace Policies Implemented Agencywide                      29
                        Table III.2: Flexiplace Policy Implemented in Headquarters                   30
                        Table III.3: Flexiplace Policies Implemented Within Multiple                 30
                          Federal Regions
                        Table III.4: Flexiplace Policies Implemented Within a Single                 31
                          Federal Region




                        Page 18                      GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
         Contents




         Table III.5: Flexiplace Policies Implemented at a Single DOD                  32
           Facility

Figure   Figure 1: Flexiplace Participation at Locations Visited                       12




         Abbreviations

         DOD        Department of Defense
         DOL        Department of Labor
         DOT        Department of Transportation
         EPA        Environmental Protection Agency
         GSA        General Services Administration
         HUD        Department of Housing and Urban Development
         MOU        memorandum of understanding
         NTEU       National Treasury Employees’ Union
         OPM        Office of Personnel Management
         PMC        President’s Management Council
         SSA        Social Security Administration
         USDA       Department of Agriculture


         Page 19                       GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Appendix I

Objectives, Scope, and Methodology


              This report responds to a request by Representative James P. Moran, the
              former Ranking Minority Member of the Subcommitte on Civil Service,
              House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, that we review
              the implementation of flexiplace since completion of the 1990 to 1993
              flexiplace pilot. Specifically, we agreed to (1) describe federal efforts to
              promote flexiplace; (2) review federal agencies’ policies and the extent to
              which they permit flexiplace; (3) determine the extent to which federal
              employees have used flexiplace, as well as the characteristics of these
              employees and the work they have done under flexiplace; (4) ascertain
              whether agencies and federal employees’ unions have identified any
              barriers that inhibit flexiplace implementation; and (5) determine whether
              agencies believe that flexiplace has caused any operational difficulties,
              including abuse of flexiplace.

              The term “flexiplace” was first coined during the pilot as an abbreviation
              for “flexible workplace.” Since the completion of the flexiplace pilot, OPM
              has adopted the term “telecommuting” to define workplace arrangements
              that allow an employee to work away from the traditional work site, either
              at home or at another approved alternative location. Although the terms
              “flexiplace” and “telecommuting” are often used interchangeably, for the
              purposes of this report, we use the term flexiplace only when describing
              work arrangements that are consistent with OPM’s definition. We found this
              restrictiveness to be necessary because some federal officials attach a
              meaning to the term telecommuting other than that which is contemplated
              by OPM’s definition. The other meaning attached to the term involves
              traditional management decentralization initiatives, such as the
              establishment of local offices that produce benefits (including improved
              customer services and satisfaction) without necessarily being more
              geographically convenient to the employees providing the services.

              To obtain general information on federal flexiplace programs within the
              executive branch, we contacted all cabinet-level departments and
              independent agencies with more than 10,000 employees as of June 1995.
              These 17 departments and independent agencies employed over
              95 percent of the federal civilian workforce. From these departments and
              agencies, we obtained basic information on flexiplace policies and the
              extent to which their personnel used flexiplace. We also obtained
              estimates of flexiplace participation that were collected by the PMC from
              its members and from a number of smaller agencies.

              To describe federal efforts to promote flexiplace, we contacted and
              interviewed knowledgeable officials in the three agencies that we



              Page 20                       GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Appendix I
Objectives, Scope, and Methodology




identified as having taken the lead in promoting flexiplace. We interviewed
OPM, GSA, and DOT officials in Washington, D.C.; reviewed documents they
provided; and scanned pertinent electronic bulletin boards and the
Internet. We also visited GSA-sponsored telecenters in Virginia and
California.

We then judgmentally selected five departments and three independent
agencies for a more detailed review. Because we did not use a
representative sample, the results of this review cannot be projected to the
entire federal workforce. The intent of our selection strategy was to obtain
a mix of departments and agencies that varied in the nature and extent of
their experience with flexiplace, encompassed a large number of federal
civilian personnel, and permitted examination of any regional variations in
flexiplace policies and efforts. We chose the Washington-Baltimore area
because the headquarters of the departments and agencies we reviewed
are located there and because we were told by GSA that about one-third of
all flexiplace participants worked in this area. We selected San Francisco
because it is the seat of federal region 9 and because of traffic and
congestion problems in the city. We chose Denver because it is the seat of
federal region 8 and is located in the interior of the country. The eight
departments and independent agencies we selected had one or more
components or offices in each of these three locations. In total, we visited
26 locations.

We chose DOD because it has the largest number of civilian personnel. We
chose GSA because of its lead role in promoting flexiplace through
establishing telecenters, and we selected DOT because it promoted
flexiplace to reduce transportation-associated pollution. We selected DOL
based on the recommendation to review its program by knowledgeable
officials in GSA. We chose EPA because the agency reported having varying
local policies. We also selected several agencies based on their estimates
of telecommuters supplied to the PMC. We chose SSA because it reported
having the largest number of telecommuters, and we selected USDA and
HUD because they reported having few or no telecommuters.


To review federal policies and the extent to which they permitted
flexiplace, we collected and examined written policies and guidelines from
department and agency officials in headquarters and in field locations we
visited. We did not examine any policies that were in draft form awaiting
approval by agency officials. We reviewed flexiplace policies to determine
the extent to which they addressed the types of employees allowed to
participate, the types of work permitted, and the types of flexiplace



Page 21                              GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Appendix I
Objectives, Scope, and Methodology




arrangements allowed. When necessary, we contacted officials to clarify
policy information. Because DOT and USDA delegated policy formulation to
their component agencies, we requested that they each provide policies
from their two largest civilian components, which excluded DOT’s Coast
Guard, and from one agency recommended by department officials. In
response, within DOT, we obtained policies from the Federal Aviation
Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Federal
Railroad Administration. Likewise, within USDA, we obtained policies from
the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Because the Navy, one of DOD’s largest employers of civilian personnel,
was recommended by DOD officials for our review, we asked agency
officials also to submit policies from the two other largest departments
employing civilian personnel: the Army and the Air Force. Neither the
Army nor the Air Force had a final departmentwide policy in effect at the
time of our review. The Navy supplied policies covering the employees at
two California locations that they suggested we visit.

To further describe the extent to which federal employees used flexiplace,
to ascertain whether agencies identified any barriers to implementing
flexiplace programs, and to determine whether agency officials believed
flexiplace caused operational difficulties, we interviewed department and
agency officials responsible for flexiplace oversight for each of the eight
departments and independent agencies in the Washington-Baltimore area,
Denver, and San Francisco. Most of these officials were flexiplace
coordinators within human resource departments, but a smaller number
were office or program managers. Due to time constraints, we did not
survey or interview individual supervisors who may have had more direct
experience with supervising employees participating in flexiplace
arrangements. Also, we did not attempt to determine the extent to which
flexiplace arrangements could or should have been undertaken or the
effectiveness of existing arrangements. Further, we did not seek to
question or verify perceptions held by agency officials or data provided on
the use of flexiplace.

Within the Washington-Baltimore area, we interviewed department and
agency officials with Navy, Forest Service, EPA, GSA, DOL, HUD, SSA, and DOT.
In Denver and San Francisco, we interviewed or contacted agency officials
in SSA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals and its Office of Operations, and
regional offices of HUD, GSA, EPA, the Forest Service, and the Federal
Highway Administration. Because DOL had separate guidelines for
flexiplace pilots in the field and in headquarters, we also interviewed the
DOL flexiplace coordinator in Denver. Because the Navy had no large




Page 22                              GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Appendix I
Objectives, Scope, and Methodology




facilities in Denver, we contacted the flexiplace coordinator with the
Defense Finance and Accounting Service Center, the largest DOD facility in
Denver. We identified large DOD facilities in the San Francisco area as
possible candidates for a site visit. However, it appeared that the nature of
the work done at these sites would not be conducive to flexiplace
arrangements. Therefore, at the recommendation of the Navy, we visited
the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Port Hueneme, California, and the
Naval Air Weapons Center in Point Mugu, California.

To obtain additional information on barriers and operational difficulties,
we conducted two additional interviews with knowledgeable departmental
officials at DOD and USDA in Washington, D.C. We also interviewed nine
union representatives with the American Federation of Government
Employees and the National Federation of Federal Employees to solicit
their views.

At each of the eight departments and agencies that were included in our
review, we interviewed agency officials knowledgeable about the
telecommuting participation estimates provided to the PMC, to determine
how they were calculated. At the 26 locations we visited, we obtained the
agencies’ current estimates of flexiplace participation but did not verify
their accuracy.

We provided a draft of this report to the Departments of Agriculture,
Defense, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Transportation, as
well as to EPA, GSA, OPM, and SSA. Their comments are discussed in the body
of this report.

We did our work between June 1996 and May 1997 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards.




Page 23                              GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Appendix II

Telecenters


              The U.S. private sector and other countries began experimenting with
History       telecenters several years before the first federal experiments. The first
              neighborhood telecenter opened in France in 1981, and others opened
              shortly thereafter in Sweden, Switzerland, Jamaica, Japan, and the United
              Kingdom. These early telecenters were established to slow the pace of
              rural-to-urban employee migration, to foster economic development, to
              capitalize on lower wages and operating costs in outlying areas, and to
              promote a less stressful environment. In 1985, Pacific Bell established the
              first telecenter in the United States.

              Federal telecenters were first established through appropriations for fiscal
              year 1993 when Congress designated $5 million to fund telecenters in
              Maryland and Virginia. Telecenter sites were selected based on GSA’s
              observation that 16,000 federal employees commuted at least 75 miles
              each way on congested roads in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
              In the spring of 1993, GSA began working in partnership with state and
              local governments in the Washington area, and by December 1994, the
              Washington area had four telecenters—one each in Hagerstown,
              Maryland; Charles County, Maryland; Winchester, Virginia; and
              Fredericksburg, Virginia. These telecenters had a total of 80 workstations,
              143 participants, and a 55 percent utilization rate. Twenty organizations in
              10 executive branch departments and agencies used these 4 centers.

              Congress continued to fund telecenters through fiscal year 1996,
              establishing additional telecenters in the Washington area. As of
              February 1, 1997, there were nine GSA-funded and leased telecenters in the
              greater Washington, D.C., area. According to GSA, at least eight other
              centers are expected to be operating in the Washington area by the end of
              1997.

              Telecenters in the Washington, D.C., pilot provide state-of-the art
              equipment that may be better than equipment provided by employers for
              use at the office or at home. Equipment can include cubicles, open work
              areas, some private offices, facsimile and copy machines, high speed
              personal computers and modems, printers, separate voice and data lines,
              local area networks, various software packages, and voice mail. Centers
              often have a site manager to offer technical help to users, and some
              centers offer video conferencing capabilities.

              Although none of the Washington area telecenters were affiliated with day
              care centers, eight of the nine telecenters were in close proximity to day
              care facilities. At least three of these telecenters were located within



              Page 24                       GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
                       Appendix II
                       Telecenters




                       walking distance of day care centers. Other day care centers were within a
                       5- to 15-minute drive from the eight telecenters.


                       According to a GSA official, GSA charged agencies participating in the
Costs of Washington,   Washington pilot a low of $25 per month for use of a single workstation 1
D.C., Area Centers     day per week, to $100 per month for use of a single workstation 5 days per
                       week. He said that the fee covered all operating expenses except for long
                       distance telephone charges. He also said that memorandums of
                       understanding (MOU) were signed by participating agencies and GSA’s
                       Office of Workplace Initiatives, and that these MOUs were administered by
                       telecenter managers. These agreements described the number and type of
                       workstations needed by agencies, the cost and billing procedure, the hours
                       of operation, and the equipment to be provided at the telecenter.
                       Employee supervision was the responsibility of the employee’s immediate
                       supervisor.

                       A GSA official anticipated that appropriations earmarked for the
                       Washington area telecenters will be depleted by the end of fiscal year
                       1999, at which time it is planned that these telecenters will be
                       self-supporting. He said that, in the interim, the cost to participating
                       federal agencies will rise over a 3-year period until agencies incur
                       100 percent of the operating costs, which are approximately $500 per
                       workstation per month. He said the future cost to participating federal
                       agencies will be determined by each individual telecenter, but that this
                       cost will be less than that for private sector participants. This official
                       further said that, when this cost increase occurs, participating agencies
                       will need to at least offset the increased charges by reconfiguring central
                       office space and reducing facilities costs.

                       Plans also call for the centers to be opened to the general public. In 1996,
                       Congress enacted legislation allowing for the opening of telecenters to
                       nonfederal employees if the centers are not fully utilized by federal
                       employees. User fees comparable to commercial rates are to be charged.


                       Telecenters can be utilized by either single employers or by many
Benefits               employers. The single employer telecenter is used by employees of only
                       one firm, organization, or government entity. Single employer telecenters
                       are typically used by large organizations that wish to assume a more
                       decentralized structure and who already have multiple facilities in which
                       excess space is available for use as telecenters. Multiemployer telecenters



                       Page 25                        GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
      Appendix II
      Telecenters




      are typically used by more than one organization and can provide the
      opportunity for smaller organizations to participate in telecommuting
      without assuming the financial burden of establishing their own centers.

      According to a 1994 report by the Institute of Transportation Studies,
      University of California, Davis,1 in comparison to working at home,
      telecenters can provide greater security for confidential information and
      greater assurance to supervisors that employees are being productive. A
      telecenter coordinator said that managers who may not be enthusiastic
      about home-based flexiplace may be more supportive of employees
      working at telecenters because the setting is similar to an office
      environment. The report further said employers’ liability for personal
      injury may be better controlled at a telecenter than at home. A GSA official
      said telecenters have safeguards to ensure a safe work environment.

      A GSA interim report on federal interagency telecommuting centers2 said
      that telecenters can provide employees an alternative office setting that is
      nearer their home, thereby decreasing their commuting distance. Federal
      employees we interviewed who favor working at telecenters over working
      at home cited several advantages of telecenters. These included a better
      separation of home and work, the ability to socially and professionally
      interact with other people, access to high quality telecenter equipment,
      and the opportunity to work in a professional atmosphere.

      The University of California report said that telecenters can have
      community and environmental benefits as well. It said that, while
      home-based flexiplace requires no commuting time at all, commuting time
      to telecenters is less than to a central office, which reduces traffic
      congestion, air pollution, road repairs, and fuel consumption. The report
      also suggests that telecenter users can increase their support of the local
      economy and have more time for community involvement as a result of
      working in the local community.


      According to GSA, as of November 1996, of the 9,000 federal employees
Use   who were telecommuting, about 500 of these employees used telecenters
      nationwide. Of these participants, approximately 355 were in the
      Washington, D.C., area. Federal agencies in the Denver area reported an

      1
        Telecommuting Centers and Related Concepts: A Review of Practice. Institute of Transportation
      Studies, University of California, Davis (Davis, California: March 1994).
      2
      GSA, Office of Workplace Initiatives, Interim Report: Federal Interagency Telecommuting Centers,
      March 1995.



      Page 26                                 GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
                         Appendix II
                         Telecenters




                         absence of federal telecenters in Denver because their use would result in
                         no appreciable reduction in commuting time; Denver’s traffic is not as
                         heavy as that in other major metropolitan areas, such as Washington and
                         Los Angeles. A GSA official in San Francisco said that a shortage of federal
                         funding has limited the establishment of telecenters in that region. A DOT
                         official said that, in addition to this reason, interest in San Francisco
                         telecenters has declined as the interest in home-based telecommuting has
                         increased.

                         The University of California, Davis, report suggests that one reason for this
                         minimal use of telecenters nationwide is that management does not want
                         to pay rent for telecenter space and also maintain central office space for
                         telecommuters. The report further suggests that this barrier could be
                         partially overcome by eliminating permanent personal work space for
                         groups of telecenter users and instead renting work space at a telecenter
                         for their use on a reservation basis. A regional GSA official told us that
                         agencies are reluctant to reduce central office space without the assurance
                         that telecenters will survive when federal appropriations are discontinued.
                         Another GSA official said that federal agencies may not see any cost
                         savings until they eliminate at least 10 to 20 workstations in their central
                         offices. He added that decreasing agencies’ central office space will ensure
                         the continuation of telecenters. He observed that this pattern of
                         decreasing office space has existed in the private sector and has led to
                         significant telecommuting in some major corporations. He pointed out that
                         the latest national figures show 9 million telecommuters.

                         As with other flexiplace arrangements, management resistance was cited
                         by agency officials, as well as by the University of California, Davis, report,
                         as a common barrier to both single and multiemployer telecenters. They
                         indicated that, because managers believed they could not effectively
                         supervise remote employees, telecommuting opportunities were often
                         restricted to those workers with independent and professional jobs. Some
                         agency officials also suggested that ensuring the security of proprietary
                         information was a barrier in considering the use of telecenters. However,
                         the University of California, Davis, report suggests that this barrier may be
                         overcome with advanced technology and the use of private offices or
                         secured file cabinets.


                         In 1994, GSA established three emergency telecenters in Los Angeles after
Other Federal            the Northridge earthquake, using emergency federal building funds. Three
Telecenter Initiatives   telecenters in the north and west ends of the city provided 98 workstations



                         Page 27                        GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Appendix II
Telecenters




so that federal workers could avoid commuting on badly damaged roads
into Los Angeles. According to GSA’s interim report on federal
telecommuting centers, two of these centers closed at the end of 1994 due
to high rental costs and low utilization.

In March 1995, PMC’s National Telecommuting Initiative identified 30
additional cities for telecommuting projects based on such factors as air
pollution, the potential for improved customer service, the size of the local
federal community, and geography. As of February 1, 1997, 20 GSA-funded
telecenters existed nationwide in cities such as Atlanta, Oklahoma City,
Chicago, Seattle, and San Francisco.

GSA also developed telecenter partnerships with state agencies such as the
California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to relieve traffic
congestion, conserve energy, and improve air quality in the state of
California. Partners in this effort included regional transportation
management authorities, local economic development offices and
redevelopment agencies, state and county fairs, community colleges, and
public school systems. The regional GSA office also established telecenters
in vacant federal office space in the San Francisco area.




Page 28                       GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Appendix III

Agencies’ Policies Reviewed



Table III.1: Flexiplace Policies Implemented Agencywide
                                                    Types of employees                                     Types of arrangements
Department or agency         Types of policy        allowed to participate         Types of work permitted permitted
Natural Resources         Written policy             Managers, supervisors,        Tasks that can be        On recurring
Conservation Service                                 and employees                 performed away from the assignments or on
(USDA)                                                                             traditional office; work special occasions
                                                                                   assignments should be
                                                                                   specific and measurable
Defense Finance and       Written policy             Permanently or                Work that requires           Portion of work week
Accounting Service                                   temporarily disabled          thinking, writing, data      must be spent in regular
(DOD)                                                employees with                analysis, and little         office
                                                     acceptable medical            face-to-face contact
                                                     documentation
Federal Aviation          Handbook containing        Does not specify              Portable work activities     Predetermined schedule
Administration (DOT)      flexiplace guidance                                      that can be performed        identifying specific days
                          applicable agencywide,                                   effectively outside the of   and times;
                          supplemented with                                        office; tasks that are       recommended to be
                          additional guidance                                      easily quantifiable or       limited to no more than 2
                          applicable to regional                                   primarily project-oriented   days per week
                          offices
Federal Highway           Agency cover letter       Does not specify               Work that does not         Up to the lesser of 5
Administration (DOT)      attached to departmental                                 require participants to be days or 45 hours for
                          personnel letter, updated                                in their assigned duty     task-based participants
                          by memorandum and                                        locations at all times;
                          supplemented with                                        task-based work, certain
                          additional guidance                                      compliance work
Federal Railroad          Written policy             All supervisors,              Specific and measurable Does not specify
Administration (DOT)      supplemented with local    managers, and                 tasks that can be
                          guidance                   employees at all grade        performed away from the
                                                     levels                        traditional office
GSA                       Written GSA order dated    Does not attempt to limit     When telecommuting is        Infrequent periods of
                          9/26/96                    types of employees, but       done for infrequent          time, such as for 1 day,
                                                     includes employees            periods of time, projects    scheduled periods for up
                                                     affected by short-term        and assignments should       to 6 months; and
                                                     injury or illness,            have short turnaround        regularly scheduled
                                                     pregnancy and paternal        times or require intense     periods for over 6
                                                     reasons, and an               concentration; type of       months that may be
                                                     unusable office;              work not specified when      extended annually
                                                     implementation for union      telecommuting is done
                                                     members is contingent         for longer periods of time
                                                     upon completion of labor
                                                     obligations
SSA                       Written policy             Severely handicapped          Does not specify             Predetermined schedule
                                                     employees who have a
                                                     severe medical illness or
                                                     injury
                                           Source: GAO analysis of agencies’ policies.




                                           Page 29                                GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
                                                 Appendix III
                                                 Agencies’ Policies Reviewed




Table III.2: Flexiplace Policy Implemented in Headquarters
                                               Types of employees                                                   Types of arrangements
Department           Types of policy           allowed to participate               Types of work permitted         permitted
DOL               Written guidelines for pilot     Selected Local 12                Portable work that can be       Established work
                                                   bargaining unit employees        performed effectively           schedules identifying days
                                                   in the Washington, D.C.,         outside of the office; tasks    and times employees work
                                                   metropolitan area                that are easily quantifiable    on flexiplace; agreements
                                                                                    or primarily                    must provide for at least 1
                                                                                    project-oriented, such as       day per week in the office
                                                                                    reading proposals and
                                                                                    reviews, analysis and
                                                                                    research, writing, and
                                                                                    computer programming
                                                 Source: GAO analysis of agencies’ policies.




Table III.3: Flexiplace Policies Implemented Within Multiple Federal Regions
                                                     Types of employees                                          Types of arrangements
Department or agency         Types of policy         allowed to participate              Types of work permitted permitted
DOL                        Written guidelines for a        Selected field positions      Not specified                Established work
                           pilot                           throughout DOL in                                          schedule that provides
                                                           selected regions                                           for a minimum time in the
                                                                                                                      office, such as 2 or 3
                                                                                                                      days per week
SSA                        Written memorandum of           All NTEU bargaining unit      Work that can be             In accordance with a
                           understanding between           employees with at least 1     performed at an              work plan that specifies
                           SSA and NTEU                    year experience in their      alternative site without     days the employee will
                           multiregional employees         occupation                    impairment to the            be in and out of the office
                                                                                         mission of the agency
SSA                        Written memorandum of           Attorney advisors in the      Does not specify             One day per week for
                           understanding between           Office of Hearings and                                     full-time employees
                           SSA and NTEU Chapter            Appeals with at least 2
                           224 employees                   years experience who
                                                           work at least 4 days per
                                                           week
Office of Motor Carriers   Written policy                  Office of Motor Carriers      Does not specify             Field workers eligible on
within the Federal Highway                                 field operations                                           a permanent basis, but
Administration (DOT)                                       employees                                                  office workers not eligible
                                                                                                                      on a permanent basis;
                                                                                                                      minimum duration of 6
                                                                                                                      months unless
                                                                                                                      unforeseeable
                                                                                                                      circumstances require
                                                                                                                      cancellation
                                                 Source: GAO analysis of agencies’ policies.




                                                 Page 30                                GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
                                              Appendix III
                                              Agencies’ Policies Reviewed




Table III.4: Flexiplace Policies Implemented Within a Single Federal Region
                                                      Types of employees                                    Types of arrangements
Department or agency         Types of policy          allowed to participate        Types of work permitted permitted
Forest Service, Region 2,   Written policy               Employees of Rocky          Does not specify           Does not specify
Rocky Mountain Forest                                    Mountain Forest and
and Range Experimental                                   Range Experimental
Station, Fort Collins, CO                                Station with medical
                                                         disability or disruption of
                                                         normal work environment
Forest Service, Region 5    Written policy               Employees in Region 5      Does not specify            For periods of 30 days or
                                                                                                                less
EPA                         Policy written in 1995 for   All permanent full- and    Portable work that can      One or 2
Region 8                    the first year of a          part-time employees        be performed effectively    nonconsecutive,
                            telecommuting program        except those on            outside of the office;      regularly scheduled days
                            intended to be               Intergovernmental          easily quantifiable and     per week; on a
                            implemented over             Personnel Agreement        project-oriented tasks;     project-basis for short
                            3 years                      assignments; SES           tasks that can be           duration (with a minimum
                                                         employees only available   grouped into single         number of days in the
                                                         for episodic and medical   blocks of time              office each week), or on
                                                         telecommuting;                                         a full- or part-time basis
                                                         employees must have 1                                  for medical reasons
                                                         year experience
EPA                         Written policy               All Region 9 employees     Portable work that can      Up to 2 regularly
Region 9                                                 except those on            be performed effectively    scheduled days per
                                                         Intergovernmental          outside of the office;      week, for short periods of
                                                         Personnel Agreement        tasks that are easily       time on a project basis,
                                                         Assignments, Senior        quantifiable or primarily   or on a full- or part-time
                                                         Environmental              project-oriented; reading   basis for medical reasons
                                                         Employment Program         and writing proposals
                                                         staff, and contract        and reviews
                                                         employees; employees
                                                         must have 1 year
                                                         experience
HUD, Colorado State         Written guidelines for       All full-time employees,   Does not specify            Work at home for no
Office                      pilot                        including managers and                                 more than 3 days per
                                                         supervisors in the Offices                             week with a minimum of
                                                         of Counsel, Fair Housing                               2 days in the office
                                                         and Equal Opportunity
                                                         Enforcement Center, and
                                                         Public Housing
                                                                                                                              (continued)




                                              Page 31                               GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
                                             Appendix III
                                             Agencies’ Policies Reviewed




                                                       Types of employees                                    Types of arrangements
Department or agency       Types of policy             allowed to participate        Types of work permitted permitted
GSA                        Written policy exempt    Does not specify                 Work that requires        Predetermined schedule
Region 8                   from headquarters policy                                  thinking and writing,     with part of the work
                           because Region 8 is a                                     such as data analysis,    week spent in the office
                           reinvention laboratory                                    reviewing grants or
                                                                                     cases, and writing
                                                                                     decisions and reports;
                                                                                     for telephone-intensive
                                                                                     tasks, such as setting up
                                                                                     conferences, obtaining
                                                                                     information, following up
                                                                                     on participants in a
                                                                                     study; and for
                                                                                     computer-oriented tasks,
                                                                                     such as programming,
                                                                                     data entry, and word
                                                                                     processing
Federal Highway            Written policy              Region 9 Federal              Does not specify             One day per week on a
Administration (DOT)                                   Highway Administration                                     long-term basis
Region 9                                               employees

                                             Source: GAO analysis of agencies’ policies.




Table III.5: Flexiplace Policies Implemented at a Single DOD Facility
                                                      Types of employees                                     Types of arrangements
DOD facility                 Types of policy          allowed to participate         Types of work permitted permitted
Naval Surface Warfare    Written policy                Port Hueneme employees Site independent work               Up to 3 work days per
Center, Port Hueneme, CA                                                      assignments that won’t              week for a renewable
                                                                              unduly impact work                  1-year period
                                                                              performance of other
                                                                              employees or the
                                                                              organization’s mission
Naval Air Weapons          Written policy              Point Mugu employees          Jobs that can be             Established work
Center, Point Mugu, CA                                                               conducted                    schedules that provide
                                                                                     independently of the         for minimum work time in
                                                                                     work location for at least   the traditional office,
                                                                                     a portion of the week        such as 2 to 3 days per
                                                                                                                  week
                                             Source: GAO analysis of agencies’ policies.




                                             Page 32                                GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Appendix IV

Flexiplace Use Reported by Agency Officials
Within Locations Visited and Contacted


                                                                                 Total number of              Number of      Percentage of
                                                                                    personnel at               flexiplace agency personnel
Agency location                                                                          location            participants     participating
Forest Service, headquarters (Washington, D.C., area)                                           677                       0                   0.0%
Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region                                                         1,632                      13                   0.8
Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region                                                      5,200                      95                   1.8
Navy, headquarters (Washington, D.C., area)                                                 30,995                      110                   0.4
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme, CA                                                2,300                      25                   1.1
Naval Air Weapons Center, Point Mugu, CA                                                      3,119                      60                   1.9
DOD Finance and Accounting Service Center, Denver, CO                                         4,000                       2                   0.1
EPA, headquarters (Washington, D.C., area)                                                    6,000                      50                   0.8
EPA, Region 8                                                                                   600                     160                  26.7
EPA, Region 9                                                                                   850                     325                  38.2
GSA, headquarters (Washington, D.C., area)                                                    5,288                     160                   3.0
GSA, Region 8                                                                                   400                      60                  15.0
GSA, Region 9                                                                                 1,400                      65                   4.6
DOL, agencies’ headquarters (Washington, D.C., area)                                          5,316                  1,047                   19.7
DOL, field units                                                                              9,970                  2,379                   23.9
Federal Highway Administration, headquarters (Washington, D.C., area)                         1,040                      20                   1.9
Federal Highway Administration, Region 8                                                        305                       4                   1.3
Federal Highway Administration, Region 9                                                        189                      15                   7.9
HUD, headquarters (Washington, D.C., area)                                                    3,085                      15                   0.5
HUD, Region 8                                                                                   475                       5                   1.1
HUD, Region 9                                                                                   900                       0                   0.0
SSA, headquarters (Baltimore area)                                                          13,305                       25                   0.2
SSA, operations, Region 8                                                                       870                       1                   0.1
SSA, operations, Region 9                                                                       300                       1                   0.3
SSA, OHA, Region 8                                                                              162                      32                  19.8
SSA, OHA, Region 9                                                                              707                      40                   5.7
Total                                                                                       99,085                   4,709                    4.8%a
                                              a
                                               Figure represents the overall percentage of employees participating in flexiplace at the 26
                                              locations we visited.

                                              Source: Agency officials provided the total number of personnel and the number of flexiplace
                                              participants at their locations. We did not verify the accuracy of these data.




                                              Page 33                                 GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
Appendix V

Major Contributors to This Report


                        Larry Endy, Assistant Director, Federal Management and Workforce Issues
General Government      Nancy A. Patterson, Assignment Manager
Division, Washington,   Marlene M. Zacharias, Evaluator Assistant
D.C.                    Thomas Beall, Technical Advisor

                        Ronald Belak, Evaluator-in-Charge
Denver Field Office




(410042)                Page 34                     GAO/GGD-97-116 Flexiplace in the Federal Government
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