If there is an electrified third-rail within the nation’s largest employer, Uncle Sam Inc., it is teleworking. Touch it and you are toast!
Officials at the Social Security Administration are finding out, the hard way, that ending a popular, long-running program like teleworking creates a political and morale hangover. It is making headlines around the country because SSA is one of the largest federal operations, with roughly 65,000 workers located in cities and towns around the country. A high percentage of its workforce have been on flex time, work-from-home programs for about six years. Recently the commissioner ended the “experimental” program for 12,000 employees in its operations division. One reason cited was that people who call in for help, information or service are put on hold an average of 20 minutes.Some officials thought that getting employees back into the office would cut this wait time.
The PR problem for Social Security officials is this is not your ordinary federal agency. It is not a regional operation like the Tennessee Valley Authority. Odds are there is a Social Security operation within a few minutes drive from your home or office, or both. The 80-year-old program touches millions and is the sole source of income in retirement (or on disability) for millions of people. It doesn’t separate people from their money — it pays them.
Many are also suspicious because the Trump administration has tangled repeatedly with federal employee unions whose national leadership endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president. The administration has taken steps to limit the number of hours during employees who double as union representatives can conduct union business while on the federal clock. It has also told unions in several agencies that they must either start paying rent or move out of union offices in federal buildings.
Teleworking has many critics, particularly among employees whose jobs or agencies don’t permit them to telework or from supervisors who believe some teleworkers don’t work.
Congress has gotten into the act. Washington, D.C.-area politicians have slammed the war on teleworking citing the upside which includes reduced traffic, pollution and the built-in ability for feds to continue operations when government is shutdown for any reason, ranging from weather emergencies, blackouts or terrorist attacks. Teleworkers, who have been there, done that and are now back at the office make a good case the program. Take, for example, this reader identified here as B.S.:
“I enjoyed your articles on federal workers and have read your column for years, going back to your Washington Post days. When SSA Commissioner [Andrew] Saul arbitrarily eliminated telework for thousands of SSA employees, he didn’t fully realize the firestorm that would result. The Telework Enhancement Act made clear that federal agencies should work towards more employees teleworking. Telework is a fact of life now, and is increasing in both federal agencies and private industry.
“The morale at Social Security is extremely low now at the Social Security payment center where I work. An [American Federation of Government Employees] letter appeared in all employees’ Outlook mailbox on Saturday, condemning Saul’s action to stop telework and outlined the steps the union is taking to fight this decision. There has been increasing press coverage, SSA workers are contacting their Congressional representatives, the House Ways and Means Committee is investigating now.
“Employees have grown to love telework, it is part of our lives now, and we will never accept it being suddenly terminated without a good reason by an old school, out of touch SSA commissioner.
“This is absolutely the worse time of year to do this, with the holidays, traffic, cold and flu season, bad weather and dangerous roads, etc. I do not relish the idea [of] sitting in traffic for an hour each way to work when I could be working cases in the safety and comfort of my home. Even having one telework day a week would make a big difference.
“Unfortunately many SSA employees have vowed they will not work hard for this commissioner and will take more leave, too. They do not trust him now, and I fear no matter what he does now it will be hard to regain that trust. I hope that you continue to write about the telework issue and emphasize that Saul’s decision at SSA has not gone over well at all, and may actually cause the backlogs to increase. This will help dissuade other agencies from making such a bad decision.”
During cicada season its recommended to save lawn work for dawn or dusk. That’s because female cicadas sometimes confuse the vibrations of power tools with the vibrations of male cicadas, and the insects have been known to swarm those mowing the grass or blowing leaves, for example.