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DISA’s backslide on telework heightens employee concerns

The Defense Information Systems Agency is requiring employees to redo their telework policies over the next month as part of a bigger effort to reduce the number of employees working outside the office on a regular basis.

In a new policy obtained by Federal News Radio, dated Jan. 21, DISA takes initial aim at non-union, non-supervisory employees by cutting their telework to two days per week. The agency is cutting the amount of days a supervisor can work outside the office on a regular basis to one day a week.

All of these actions by DISA executives bring to life previous concerns about significant parking shortages at DISA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. The policy would add cost to employees’ commutes and take away time with their families, DISA sources said.

The policy affects about 1,000 non-union employees working at DISA, a DISA spokesperson said.

And now union employees are wondering if they are next.

DISA said it “does not plan to amend the policy for [union] civilian personnel at this time.”

The policy does not stop at the number of days employees can telework. The policy prohibits non-supervisory employees from scheduling more than one telework day in the same week as a compressed work schedule day.

Supervisors will not be allowed to schedule a telework day in the same week as a compressed work schedule day.

DISA’s compressed work schedules allow approved employees to work eight, nine-hour workdays and one, eight-hour work day, culminating in one day off every two weeks.

“Employees have been able to voice their concerns about the changes at a town hall meeting, discussions with the union representatives at DISA and through our director’s suggestions program,” the spokesperson said.

From March 1 to March 31, all DISA employees, regardless of union affiliation, are required to renew their telework agreement and obtain approval from their supervisor, states an email signed by Bobbie Sanders, DISA’s deputy director of manpower, personnel and security, and obtained by Federal News Radio. The email has not yet been sent out to staff, a source said.

“Any employees currently on a regular recurring of ad-hoc telework schedule must complete a new [telework] agreement by 31 March if they desire to continue participation in the program. On 1 April, all legacy telework agreements will be voided and previous telework schedules will cease until a new agreement is approved,” the email states.

That email will go out to all DISA employees on or before March 1, a source said.

A Feb. 3 email sent to senior DISA leaders and obtained by Federal News Radio stated from Jan. 11 to Feb. 26 DISA reconstructed its telework registration website.

The timeline in the Feb. 3 email stated from March 1 to March 14 employees will update or request their telework schedule and complete telework training.

From March 14 to March 21, supervisors must update the approval of telework agreements. DISA set aside March 22 to March 31 for a business plan approval period if applicable.

Rumblings of a change in telework policy began back in November.

Federal News Radio reported in December DISA had drawn up a draft policy to reduce the amount of employee telework days.

“We were told we’re going to have these three [telework] days; that nobody was going to touch the telework policy and now [DISA Director Lt. Gen. Alan Lynn] is saying they are going to review it and it’s going to be less,” a DISA employee told Federal News Radio on the condition of anonymity when DISA leaders were reviewing the policy.

DISA employees commute from as far as Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia to the agency’s headquarters in Maryland.

The fact that DISA is considering a major change to its telework policy strikes sources as surprising and unfortunate considering its stature as a leader in telework throughout the last decade.

Several sources said both Lynn and DISA Chief of Staff Col. Mark Rosenstein do not like telework and want employees to be in the office.

Sources said during Lynn’s inaugural meeting with employees in July he told employees he was going to review the teleworking policy.

That concerned DISA employees, due to the lengths they drive and their familial responsibilities, sources said.

One employee said it would cost her $1,500 a month in before-and after-school care if teleworking were cut since she is a supervisor and could only telework one day per week.

Other DISA employees who spoke to Federal News Radio said they were more productive when they worked at home partly because they avoided the toil of long commutes.

One source, who manages more than 20 people, said one of her employees has to get up at 2:30 a.m. and commute over three hours each way on two buses and three trains to get to work on time when not teleworking.

Fort Meade was not informed of DISA’s telework policy change and does not have any plans to change transportation on the base to accommodate a possible influx of drivers due to the policy, said Chad Jones, a spokesman for Fort Meade.

He added DISA is in charge of its internal policy and does not need to inform the base of changes.

As of 2011, about 60 percent of DISA employees teleworked. By comparison only 30 percent of eligible teleworkers throughout the federal government chose to do so in fiscal 2012, according to a 2013 report to Congress.

DISA’s policy stated, “Proper balance is a key factor to the success of any telework program. Supervisors must balance the agility that telework allows with the imperative that this agency must provide readily available, proactive and accessible customer service. Our success requires the direct personal interaction that fosters innovation and teamwork. Our mission is best accomplished when we are also significantly present and collaborating together in the workplace.”

It also stated “telework is not an entitlement, benefit or right. Not all employees are eligible to telework.”

Sources said Lynn does not like telework because he thinks industry is moving away from it.

That goes against statistics from Global Workplace Analytics, which keeps up-to-date statistics on teleworking. The site shows teleworking has increased in industry every year since 2006.

The policy change also contradicts laws and memos issued by Congress and the executive branch — both of which have strongly encouraged teleworking in recent years.

DISA has been at the forefront of teleworking policy since the mid-2000s, when the agency’s headquarters was slated to be consolidated to Fort Meade, Maryland from three locations in Northern Virginia.

DISA moved to Fort Meade in 2011.

Part of DISA’s high retention rate of its 4,600 employees during the move was due to the option to telework.

“To us telework is a huge recruitment and retention strategy,” then-Director of Manpower, Personnel and Security Jack Penkoske said in 2011. He is now a senior executive at Lockheed Martin.

In 2009, DISA increased its maximum allowed teleworking days to three days.

Workers also expressed concern that traffic at the base, which employs more than 55,000 people, would be exacerbated by fewer teleworking days.

“MD Route 175 is already well over-traveled and current construction to that road is only making travel on that road more difficult,” one DISA employee said. “With the upcoming opening of the CYBERCOM building on the east side of Fort Meade and the projection of an additional almost 3,000 employees within the next few years, traffic is only going to increase.”

Sources mentioned that employees may feel compelled to drive to work during inclement weather if they have used their teleworking days for the week.

The lack of parking also worries several DISA workers. Sources said even with the three-day telework policy, parking on the base is difficult. The shuttle bus could add up to 30 minutes to a commute, one employee source said.

Employees also worry about the extra cost of driving to and from Fort Meade for at least one extra day, plus the other accommodations they must make.

“Individuals make life decisions, to include where they live, the homes they purchase, the vehicles they buy or lease, childcare, schools, et cetera, based upon the fact that they were told that they would be able to telework once they started their employment with DISA,” one employee said.

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