Whether they get to work via chauffeur-driven limo, private car, bus, subway or horse — think former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — your Washington-based boss is going to be mingling more with the masses this summer. And odds are he or she isn’t going to enjoy seeing how the other half — that would be you — actually lives, or gets to and from work.
And that misery-doesn’t-love-company experience could, maybe, pump more life into the government’s teleworking program, or not.
Between now and Sept. 8 the Washington, D.C., area’s Metro system will undergo a series of repairs and upgrades. Some will be localized refits lasting a few days. The longest, running a week past Labor Day, will impact tens of thousands of workers in both federal and private sectors, who live, work or commute through parts of Northern Virginia. Six important, high-volume Metro stations will be closed. Monday was Day One and once it sinks in it could have a ripple effect reaching federal outposts beyond the Beltway, where 85 percent of the workforce lives, works and struggles to work thanks to our sagging national infrastructure.
Metro, which provides subway transport for D.C. and wide portions of suburban Maryland and Virginia, was once the state-of-the-art envy of major cities. Now, after years of benign, or as some say intentional neglect, parts of it are literally falling apart. There have been wrecks, delays and even deaths that have reduced ridership dramatically in one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country.
And with some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation, we frequently rank worst or second-worst in traffic surveys, depending on who’s making them.
While tens of thousands of feds are experimenting with new ways to get to work, smart federal managers will step up teleworking which, in many agencies, is still a lip-service operation designed to look good in the annual Status of Telework In the Federal Government Report to Congress reports filed by the Office of Personnel Management. If the Trump Administration has its way OPM will cease to exist, with many of its current duties and workers shifted to another low-public-profile agency, the General Services Administration. Outside of government offices, few Americans, including long-running Jeopardy Champ James Holzauer, could identify OPM or GSA, much less say what they do.
The problem with teleworking isn’t determining who could or should be doing it. Rather it is getting division chiefs, managers, etc., to sign off. According to government studies most employees in many offices are eligible for teleworking. In some cases, such as the Education Department, it’s 99 to 100% eligibility. But the actual number of teleworkers is much smaller in many operations.
In past years some agencies have allowed a few employees to telework as little as once a month or once a year, so they can complete surveys saying they are telework-compliant. Other places, like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and U.S. Agency for Global Media, view teleworking as the norm, not the exception. In many agencies teleworking peaked during the recent extended government shutdowns.
The National Treasury Employees Union said DMV workers face “a summer-long commuting crisis.” NTEU President Tony Reardon said it’s “ironic that the same administration trying to gut telework in labor contracts is now relying on it to make sure their Washington-area workforce remains productive and effective!”
Or not, queue the conspiracy theory drum roll …
What if some fiendish administrator sees this as helpful in fulfilling the promise to drain the D.C. swamp? What if they let traffic gridlock help make it appear that bureaucrats along the Potomac are indeed inept and unwilling to work?
Rather than look to politicians and Metro’s bureaucrats to expand teleworking your best hope of working from home, at least part of the time, may depend on how miserable your D.C. based secretary, director or administrator’s commute is over the next 15 weeks. Thoughts?
In order to build the first bridge across Niagara Gorge at Niagara Falls in 1847, a kite contest was held to get the necessary 700-foot-long cable over the Whirlpool Rapids. The first person to get a kite from the American side to the Canadian side would receive a $10.00 prize. American teenager Homan Walsh won the prize when he flew his kite to Clifton, now Niagara Falls, Ontario. Attached to the kite was a lightweight rope that pulled increasingly heavier ropes across the gorge until finally a steel cable was pulled across.