Audit: More data needed to prove teleworking benefits

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The Office of Personnel Management needs to get agencies to report more data on the benefits and costs of their telework programs, according to a watchdog report.

Agencies have been reporting less data on their cost savings from teleworking — and a Government Accountability Office report released Monday says this could hinder Congress’ ability to oversee telework.

The report notes there are benefits to telework, including fewer employee absences and program continuity. And agencies told the report’s authors that telework helped with many aspects of workforce management, including employee recruitment and retention, work/life balance, and productivity.

But data helps agencies prove these benefits, the GAO noted in the report.

The amount of agency-reported data on cost savings has declined in recent years, the report explains, and then OPM did not ask for cost savings information in its 2014-2015 agency data request.

“GAO recommends that the Director of OPM should include cost savings questions in future telework data calls and provide clarifying guidance on options for developing supporting data for benefits and costs,” the authors wrote.

OPM agreed, and said it would include cost savings questions from older surveys into the 2016 agency telework survey. In their response, OPM also said it would work with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to develop guidance for agencies to better evaluate benefits and costs.

OPM added that the office would host a CHCO Academy session to tackle how to evaluate telework programs.

“While we recognize that providing this guidance could be challenging, some of the agencies we reviewed told us that they could benefit from having such guidance,” the authors wrote. “DOT reported that it would be useful to have standard government-wide guidance on translating qualitative telework programmatic outcomes into quantifiable cost savings data.”

OPM does offer resources to help agencies improve their programs, as well as webinars to help agencies respond to the annual call for data. OPM offers “fee-for-service assistance to help implement or improve existing telework programs and training,” according to the report.

“However, OPM guidance lacks information about how agencies can use existing data collection efforts to more readily identify benefits of their telework programs, and OPM has not provided guidance on how agencies should calculate the costs of their programs,” according to the report highlights.

The authors added that: “As a result, Congress does not have the information it needs to assess the true value of telework, which could impact its ability to provide oversight of telework across the federal government.”

The GAO performed the audit from April 2015 to July 2016, conducting a literature review, interviews with agency officials and conversations with OPM officials about their data collection methods. The auditors chose six agencies to review.

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Agencies, mobile and wireless, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Tech, telework
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