Federal business continuity may depend on telework
To ensure that essential government services are available in emergencies, federal agencies are required to develop continuity of operations (COOP) plans. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says that agencies should consider the use of telework — that is, work performed at an employee’s home or at a work location other than a traditional office — as part of a continuity plan.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently reported that 43 agencies have identified staff eligible to telework, and that more than 140,000 federal employees used telework in 2004. OPM also reported that many government operations can be carried out in emergencies using telework. For example, telework appears to be an effective strategy for responding to a pandemic.
The GAO has identified steps that agencies should take to effectively use telework during an emergency.
Although agencies are not required to use telework in continuity planning, 9 of the 23 agencies surveyed reported plans for essential team members to telework during a COOP event, compared to 3 in GAO’s previous survey. However, few documented that they made the necessary preparations to effectively use telework during such an event.
One reason for the low levels of preparations reported is that FEMA has not provided specific guidance on preparations needed to use telework during emergencies. Recently, FEMA disseminated guidance to agencies on incorporating pandemic influenza considerations into COOP planning. Although this guidance suggests the use of telework during such an event, it does not address the steps agencies should take when preparing to use telework during an emergency. Without specific guidance, agencies are unlikely to adequately prepare their telework capabilities for use during a COOP event.
GAO has recommended that FEMA establish a time line for developing guidance on preparations needed for using telework during a COOP event.