Are 415,000 federal teleworkers at risk?

The Social Security Administration’s surprise order to end its six-year-old teleworking program, which covers 12,000 employees nationwide, may be just the start of a governmentwide downsizing of the very popular perk. Popular at least with employees who telework, and it definitely has the 415,000 teleworkers in other federal agencies wondering if they are next — and about return to the world of commuting and car pools?

SSA said earlier this week that the 1- to 3-day-per-week telecommuting program will end Nov. 8 for those in its operating component. That’s left thousands of SSA employees, from its Woodlawn (Baltimore area) headquarters to field offices around nation, to rethink their commuting patterns. Also, both day care and eldercare programs would end Nov. 8. That has left thousands of people who’ve grown accustomed to working from home scrambling to setup new childcare and eldercare arrangements.

Last year both the departments of Agriculture and Education limited teleworking to one day per week. And earlier this year the Department of Health and Human Services limited its teleworking program to one day per week for workers in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health.

But those changes are nothing on the scale of the Social Security decision right after signing a contract with the American Federation of Government.

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Wondering why?

Was the decision to pull the plug on teleworking based on studies showing declines in productivity, or the inability of home-bound workers to provide services to elderly clients the way in-office workers do? Or was it fed by supervisors who can’t telework? Some feds have stories about a teleworking colleague who babysat or binge-watched TV, or even had another job, while “working” from home.

Or, was this a political shot-across-the-bow, starting with one of the largest and most unionized and close-to-customers federal operations, aimed at what are perceived to be partisan inhabitants of the greater D.C. swamp? Unelected bureaucrats who aren’t saluting the flag properly (Interior Department), or at the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department and  in other agencies where politicos think career feds have their own agenda.

One SSA retiree emailed, “I’m retired but you have no idea how hard I worked to eliminate telework.  It just doesn’t work and employees have told me it’s like a day off.  So we have a lobby full of customers, but teleworkers are enjoying a work day from home! I never did telework since I knew who paid my salary, and that’s the public. It’s time for those individuals who are big proponents of telework to either get with the program or look for another job.”

The majority of people, according to reactions here and elsewhere, defended teleworking for a lot of reasons: Some, both in individual interviews and studies by their agency, say they are much more productive at home. And that time lost commuting can be focused on the job. Many also wondered how telecommuters are going to be crammed into downsized offices, and how it will impact traffic and pollution.

So what’s your take on teleworking? Is it good for Uncle Sam and the taxpayers or is it an unfair (and unwise) slap at bureaucrats? And how will it play with the public?  Let me know at mcausey@federalnewsnetwork.com

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

Philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre once managed to get his schoolmaster fired for a prank he pulled at Ecole Normale Supérieure. In 1927, Sartre and some of his classmates convinced the local media that aviator Charles Lindbergh would stop at their school on his European tour, then hired a Lindbergh lookalike for the occasion. The incident led to schoolmaster Gustave Lanson’s contract being terminated due to his “lack of control.”

Source: International League of Antiquarian Booksellers

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