- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Next time you spot somebody hunkered over a laptop, renting an entire table for four with a $1.75 cup of coffee at Starbucks, show a little respect. It could be a trusted member of the federal civil service.

A study by CDW Government, Inc. says teleworking is expanding in the federal government. About 41 percent of the employees surveyed said they teleworked, and about 43 percent of those said they had started recently. Roughly 6 percent of teleworkers surveyed said their workplace of choice was Starbucks.

The study, compiled with the help of O’Keefe & Co., was based on interviews with 235 information-technology professionals and 542 Washington area feds. CDW-G, a unit of CDW Corp., provides IT services to governments.

Although the numbers are encouraging, some in government suspect that such surveys are tilted to make it look like greater gains are being made.

This is in large part to satisfy people such as Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican. He has put language in several appropriations bills that provide stiff fines for agencies that don’t meet teleworking goals.

Mr. Wolf represents a district with some of the nation’s worst traffic congestion. The words “Tysons Corner” and “Mixing Bowl” strike fear into many people in the Washington area.

Mr. Wolf’s goal is to have so many feds teleworking so often that every day seems like a Friday. It is one of the lighter traffic days, except on holiday weekends, because so many people on four-day schedules pick that as their alternate day off. Politicians and officials also worry about what might happen if a major flu epidemic, natural disaster or terrorist attack hit the area.

Nobody knows for sure how many federal employees are working from home or from telework centers, or how often they do it, or what exactly identifies a teleworker.

In 2004, the Office of Personnel Management counted 140,694 teleworkers, up from 72,844 in 2001. A major problem is that it is in just about everybody’s interest to maximize that number.

Another issue is that skeptics of teleworking tend to keep quiet.

“[It’s] a fact that some bosses just don’t trust employees they can’t see. Being in touch via computer or phone isn’t enough,” a Defense Department employee said.

“They read about workers, whose home base is Dallas or Washington, but who actually do their jobs from Denver and Seattle,” he said, but “either they don’t believe it really works or they know it won’t work with their employees.”

Unless and until managers are convinced the program works, regular reports, surveys and audits showing the progress of the program may not cut into traffic or the nation’s energy problems.

Pay raise

It isn’t if, or when. The question for federal and military people is how much the January raise next year will be. In the past, there has been the possibility that one group would get a bigger percentage raise than the other.

The White House opened the annual pay game with Congress by offering 2.2 percent to both civilian and military people. That jolted many who had expected the civilian pay proposal would be 1.7 percent, with the military getting more.

Now that both have the same offer, the question is: Can unions and pro-fed politicians in key positions in the majority and minority leadership bump up that raise another percentage point or more?

The amount of the January federal pay raise, as well as things such as health insurance tax breaks for retired feds, are top of the list for groups in town this month to lobby Congress. They include grass-roots leaders from the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union.

The two unions have successfully delayed implementation of pay-for-performance plans in both departments. That slows the pace for other agencies waiting for the Defense Department and Homeland Security Department to take the lead.

Unions contend it isn’t pay-for-performance but a blueprint for a return to the spoils system.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]

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