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DISA’s draft policy would weaken government’s telework leader

The Defense Information Systems Agency, one of the government’s models for teleworking, is seriously considering clamping down on the number of days employees can telework, potentially affecting the morale of workers and severely impacting their home lives.

Six employees within DISA, a former DISA official and the draft policy obtained by Federal News Radio confirm the agency may restrict employee teleworking to a maximum of two days per week. Supervisors would be restricted to one day per week.

“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.

Sources said the possible policy change could cause significant parking shortages at DISA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. The policy would also add cost to employees’ commutes and take away time with their families, DISA sources said.

For example, 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.

“I would have to wake my kids up in the dark and have them eat breakfast at a before-care facility, and [I] would be too tired by the time I came home to fix a proper dinner. Family life would suffer because I am a single mother,” she said.

In addition to the possible reduction of telework days, the draft policy states a senior executive service official must approve every supervisor’s business plan regarding telework, and those supervisors must submit their plans within 30 days of the policy’s implementation.

The new draft policy goes further in restricting DISA employees’ choice of telework days. They would no longer be able to telework on both Friday and Monday. Instead they must use one of their telework days midweek — Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

The draft policy also states that telework “may be authorized for new employees at the discretion of the supervisor following a minimum six-month review period.”

Sources expect Lynn to make the policy announcement during a town hall meeting scheduled for Dec. 16.

A DISA spokeswoman said in a statement to Federal News Radio that the telework policy is under revision, however, as of Dec. 14, there was no plan to make an announcement about the teleworking policy.

“The revision process is still ongoing and no final decision has been made on how the telework policy will be changed, if at all. It is not an agenda topic for Wednesday’s planned town hall meeting with the director. When the review process is complete the outcome will be announced to the workforce through official channels. Any discussion prior to that point is pre-decisional,” DISA spokeswoman Alana Johnson said in the statement to Federal News Radio.

DISA has been a telework leader over the last decade

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.

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.

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 and said industry is moving away from teleworking.

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.

DISA’s draft policy states: “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.”

The draft policy also reminds employees that “telework is not an entitlement, but rather is a voluntary program that can be authorized at the supervisor’s discretion within the reasonable limits of our agency’s requirements and policy.”

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.

DISA said it remains committed to teleworking. The draft policy states: “When implemented properly, an effective telework program can improve readiness, productivity, morale, recruitment and retention and enhance the quality of work life, which is why the agency must regularly review its telework policy.”

Congress and the President  continue to promote telework

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

In 2010, Congress passed the Telework Enhancement Act, which was designed to help the government with workforce management. Last year, President Barack Obama signed a memo urging agencies to expand their telework programs.

Since the Telework Enhancement Act became law, the Government Accountability Office has found that management had some resistance to telework because of different expectations between teleworkers and non-teleworkers, and worries about increased IT costs.

In an earlier statement to Federal News Radio, DISA said it was working with employees and soliciting their feedback on the teleworking review. None of the employees Federal News Radio spoke with said they were asked for their opinion or heard of any employees being solicited for their suggestions or thoughts on changes to the telework policy.

The potential change in DISA policy has some employees seriously concerned about the cost to their daily routine, the time it will take them to commute to work and the potential traffic and parking headaches it may cause.

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

The 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.

Another employee source said he drives 85 miles from his home in Pennsylvania to Fort Meade and back on days he does not work remotely.

Increased traffic at Fort Meade is a concern

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

In 2010, the Defense Department worked with the state of Maryland to improve roads around the area. But with DISA, the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command all based at Fort Meade, sources said traffic is a constant worry.

“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.

Several of the DISA employees said Lynn has suggested establishing an offsite parking area at the Army Readiness Center at the Army National Guard building. The location would then shuttle employees to and from the site.

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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