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More Federal Workers are Telecommuting 79

Posted by samzenpus
from the I'm-staying-home-today dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Boosting the ranks of federal employees who telework is a slow, sometimes painful process, despite numerous incentives and legislative edicts lobbed at U.S. agencies over the years. Take the situation at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which last month was ordered by a federal arbitration panel to allow its legal instrument examiners to telework on a pilot basis. ATF was against letting these specialists telework because it says the material they need to remove from agency offices in order to telework posed a security risk. The Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) became involved at the request of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which successfully argued its case for allowing the examiners to telework on a pilot basis."
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More Federal Workers are Telecommuting

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  • by primadd (1215814) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:54PM (#22161710) Homepage
    As this sbc article [smallbusin...puting.com] details, those left behind find it "less personally fulfilling to do their work".
    So how exactly is this a good thing, unless you plan on having no office at all - which is not quite feasible.

    --
    cool customizeable social bookmarkign widget for your site [primadd.net]
    • by gotzero (1177159)
      Seeing some of the people walking out of Gov offices, I think working at home might save the ones that can do it! Remote access has made me happy, not to work from home, but to be able to catch up on e-mail and stuff on something besides the blackberry... I do think you have to be careful who you let telecommute though, and keep the ability to call them in at any time. I could productivity dive if there were not some pretty draconian measures.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by netruner (588721)
      I once worked in a department that allowed telecommuting - my boss made everyone in our workgroup sign up for it - not so we could work from home as opposed to from the office, but so we could work from the office and work from home. My team lead was working a full day at the office and dealing with the builds at night from home. Whatever they were paying him, it wasn't enough to put up with that nonsense. So the abuse can go both ways.

      BTW - the boss was a total Lumbergh - yes, he would place demands o
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Wansu (846)

        My team lead was working a full day at the office and dealing with the builds at night from home. Whatever they were paying him, it wasn't enough to put up with that nonsense. So the abuse can go both ways.

        That's the way my last boss treated telecommuting, as a supplement rather than as a substitute. And here's the kicker, I was working on nightly builds. Mine was the only group in a large company compelled to work scheduled, rotating shifts of uncompensated overtime. Either you were up until 2 or
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Call him. Every single time something goes wrong, anywhere, for any member of the team, they call him. If something looks unusual, call him. If something looks perfectly normal, call him and let him know things are "back on track." He wants his shop running 24 hours a day? He's on call 24 hours a day. He doesn't answer the phone? Leave voice mail and stop working until he calls back. You ain't sleepin'? He ain't sleepin'. Either he gets the message or at least you get to torment him until the mom
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by microTodd (240390)
          The pointy headed boss called me one time when I was in the middle of taking a massive dump.

          Why, oh why, in the world did you ANSWER THE PHONE?
    • A good compromise might be to allow workers to telecommute 20% of the time (1 day per week). Give everyone that freedom, and nobody can complain. Plus, you'd still have plenty of "face time" with your co-workers.

    • Well, in the DC area if more telecommuting were permitted, it might make a dent on traffic. You could certainly tell the "compressed work schedule' days when that was a big thing. (DoD still on that?)

      Now, productivity? In quite a few cases I can think of, they goverment-types don't produce anything useful except fertiziler and CO2 anyway - so not having them bug me in person every day does improve MY productivity! At least I don't feel quite so grumpy when I go home.
  • Um... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @08:57PM (#22161732)
    The Federal Service Impasses Panel?

    Am I the only one here who thinks the existence of that agency is the real story?
    • Re:Um... (Score:5, Informative)

      by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @10:13PM (#22162352) Homepage
      They've [flra.gov] been around since the 1970s, and appear to be a "disinterested 3rd party" that mediates disputes between federal agencies and the unions which have reached an impasse.

      They're part of the FLRA, which is the larger body that is an umbrella organization for dealing with labor issues within the federal government.

      It's not particularly surprising that such a body exists. I'd be more surprised if it didn't.
    • by truesaer (135079)
      It only seems weird because it has an official name. It's the people in the government who negotiate with union employees. Everyone who employs union employees has people who deal with conflicts, just without a fancy name.
    • by operagost (62405)
      They arbitrate with the telephone sanitizer's union.
  • If I worked for the government I would too I mean all the easier to spend tax payers' money on improving my house :P
  • by LinDVD (986467) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:05PM (#22161814)
    As an employee of the USCG, I am allowed to telecommute one day a week, every week on any regular 5-day work week. Any Ensign (O-series) and higher, 3rd class Petty Officer (E-series) and higher and all GS-7's and higher can do telecommuting, pending supervisory (permission is granted from supervisory GS-12's or GS-13's) and network security approval. Non-rates and the majority of contractors don't get assigned a security token, and therefore don't get the privilege. Now I can't speak for other Federal agencies of course...
    • by squidfood (149212) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:54PM (#22162174)

      Now I can't speak for other Federal agencies of course...

      It varies not just by Agency, but by division, line office, supervisor all the way down. Where I work in NOAA is even more flexible for many, especially scientific personnel (2 or even 3 days/week is not uncommon), with plenty of resources to make it work. Been doing this for a couple years, though recent across-the-board laptop security issues (changes driven from the top after some of the well-publicized losses in other agencies) has made it harder.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by wronskyMan (676763)
      I hope by O's/Petty Officers you don't let the pilots and rescue swimmers telecommute - I like them to be there when they are picking me out of the ocean :)
  • Of course feral workers telecommute, they make a mess in the corner!
  • [Erin Driscoll] "Jack, start prepping a team for an assault on the east wing. Edgar- where's Chloe? Find her and tell her to open a new socket in the server room as a new priority."
    [Edgar Stiles] "Chloe's.. erm.. working from home today, Miss Driscoll..."
  • by intrico (100334) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:19PM (#22161914) Homepage
    They are helping the environment by being unproductive at home, rather than going into the office to be unproductive.
    • If I worked at the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, I would definitely take my work home with me...
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Contrary to popular belief (including the person who commented above), some Federal employees/contractors are very productive when telecommuting from home. I telecommuted twice in my service as a contractor to two different Federal agencies -- at the first agency, I worked from home one day a week and was able to work uninterrupted for 12 hours straight (eliminating a 4 hour round trip commute) which enabled me to get a lot of extra work completed. At the second agency, I telecommuted full-time for 6 mont
  • I don't see a problem with federal workers telecommuting,... especially considering that the big boss [wikipedia.org] technically "telecommutes". Of course, if my employer would give me a house [whitehouse.gov], I'd probably work from home, too,... Then again, on the negative side, he's arguably one of the least productive federal workers, so he's probably screwing up the whole telecommuting thing for everyone else!
    • by Lumpy (12016)
      Then again, on the negative side, he's arguably one of the least productive federal workers, so he's probably screwing up the whole telecommuting thing for everyone else!

      are you insane? do you realize how much brush he has cleared from Texas during his term???

      The man is incredibly productive! Plus he decimated a country in the middle east, and destroyed major parts of the constitution as well. What have you done in the past 8 years?
      • by cashman73 (855518)
        Plus he decimated a country in the middle east, and destroyed major parts of the constitution as well.

        Decimated a country in the middle east?! Heck! He practically decimated his own country's economy! That's it! I now declare that telecommuters are destroying America! This practice must end, NOW! :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I know you're trying to make a funny, but it's more accurate to say that the President lives in a house with an attached office building than to say he works from home. As for Crawford, the government spends millions not only making it usable as a "Western White House", but also making sure the President isn't assassinated whenever he goes there.

      Then again, Jefferson did more work in Monticello than he did in the White House. He was perhaps the original telecommuter, not to mention the inventor of the swiv

    • by MiniMike (234881)
      > especially considering that the big boss technically "telecommutes"

      No, that's called "phoning it in".
  • ...not the exception, at least for certain positions and personality types.

    Telecommuters drive less, so there's less pollution and traffic. With the right people, telecommuting can enhance productivity and job satisfaction.

    I feel strongly about this, having been a FT telecommuting programmer for the past 5+ years. I love working with hours of uninterrupted concentration. Whenever I do have to go into the office, I'm surrounded by distractions, especially from coworkers who bullshit incessantly.

    YMMV of co
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jesterzog (189797)

      Whenever I do have to go into the office, I'm surrounded by distractions

      I appreciate that you've already stated there are people who do better in an office setting, but I still find it interesting that so many of comments I've read on Slashdot are strongly in favour of telecommuting.

      I quite enjoy going to work. It's a 40 minute walk (which is an excuse to go for a reasonable walk a couple of times a day), and being at work puts me in the frame of mind for doing work-related things. Having people around

      • by Max_W (812974)
        It can suddenly change if one has to depart. For example to visit a sick parent sever thousand kilometers away.

        Instead of losing productivity, or the job, one can just work via telecommuting for 2 weeks. With VPN it does not make any difference where you sit. Do not dismiss this great innovation, it can well come handy one day. Better learn how to use the VPN access and have your working place prepared for an emergency departure.

      • by sticks_us (150624)

        Having people around who are also doing work really helps to motivate me

        That is true. Maybe the most important of all is the type of workplace you're in.

        If I'm working on a really difficult project that requires deep concentration, I know it'll never get done when there are people around me yammering on the phones, conversing about people's personal life, asking me about last night's "American Idol" episode, begging me to buy girl scout cookies, watching youtube videos, laughing about my bad "engineer hair," etc.

        Damn. I just convinced myself I need a new job.

        Home tends to be where I like to relax more, and that's usually the frame of mind I'm in when I'm there.

        See, you hit on

  • by Urger (817972) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:22PM (#22161934) Homepage
    I already do Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms at home, often all at once. They could just hire me and boost their numbers accordingly.
    • My application was rejected: until you're also competent with explosives they won't be interested.
  • Government workers are already very good at commuting: no matter what the order their numbers always multiply. So telecommuting shouldn't be that hard for them.
  • Security please! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @09:56PM (#22162192)
    I can only hope (because I doubt that I can expect) that these telecommuting workers use encrypted datafiles, well-secured "work-only" home-office PCs, multi-factor authentication, non-wireless internet connections, etc. I'm sure any number of people would love to gain access to government data or databases.
    • by squidfood (149212)

      I'm sure any number of people would love to gain access to government data or databases.

      My agency was and is quite proactive at promoting telecommuting, trip reduction, alternate transport (good thing too... NOAA is somewhat concerned with climate issues...) but admittedly lagged behind in security. But this is also mindset: we are all academic-minded research-lab types working with public data (e.g. satellite info) and we like to make work public, so getting the security issues were a second priority.

      Encryption? Sure, no biggie (late following the Socical Security boo-boos but no losses

    • Well, I can tell you that my agency uses fully-encrypted hard drives on laptops. If you have a "work-only" home-office PC, it has to be fully encrypted as well and has to meet the same standards that the laptops would. All connections to the office are via VPN (and the VPN software is very careful to shut down all other network adapters, which means I have to log off of the VPN before I can print to the shared printer at my house).

      Thumb drives and floppy drives are completely disallowed as well.

      Lesson

      • You can get a thumb drive, but it has to be fully encrypted as well, and you have to have supervisory approval to even request one.

        Which means, at my level, they're completely disallowed. But then, I don't have any access to sensitive information anyway.

    • Well, speaking only for the USCG, we use a Nortel VPN for the client software plus a CAC (Common Access Card) reader for connecting to standard workstations. The CAC is the standard Federal government ID card. Wireless connections and PoE are not allowed, but it takes the network security staff about 20 minutes before they drop the connection for various reasons-if you violate the policy multiple times in a row, your rights to telecommute are removed and are not easy to get back even if your supervisor tr
    • Encrypted datafiles
      - No, although some effort is being made to only allow access to files on the server, and not allow them to print 'work' items on 'home' printer.

      Well-secured "work-only" home-office PCs
      - BWWWAAA HA HA HA HA HA. Not a chance. Sorry, don't mean to be rude, but that is pretty much laughable.

      Multi-Factor Authentication
      -YES - the one thing they are getting right! Most are going with RSA keys that change every 'x' seconds.

      Non-Wirelss Internet conn
      • What agency do you work for? Whoever they are, they're over a year late instituting the White House directive that mandates whole disk encryption on any computer that leaves the office.

        Serously, what agency do you work for?
    • I'm over-simplifying this, granted, but sometimes I feel like my data is safer at home, at least from a physical perspective. If someone is wandering around my house that I don't know, it raises the level of alert, so to speak, and I would do something like call the police or shoot them. If someone is wandering around my office that I don't know, I couldn't care less. It happened (when I had an office) every day. Yes - I recognize there's a lot more to security than random strangers wandering around doi
  • I really hope this means they have more personal details about us on laptops! That would be fun
  • I'm pro-telecommuting but not if it makes the government more efficient. The ATF especially.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I can do it, too. Just pick up any phone, anywhere, and say the following words in any particular order: "terrorist Iraq Al Qaeda" and you'll instantly be connected to your neighborhood friendly NSA agent, ready and willing to connect you to your party!
  • From TFA:

    ATF was against letting these specialists telework because it says the material they need to remove from agency offices in order to telework posed a security risk.

    I can see why. I mean, the poor guys need to bring work home, obviously. In case you do'nt know what the ATF does, it turns out that this is the Official Agency that solves the big problem created by alcohol, firearms and tobacco. I went to their web site and it's kinda technical -- it has to do with seizing stuff and closing down pl

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I am an IT professional. I have had to work in telecommuting heavy environments. While a small dash might allow you to get work done when you would otherwise have to take vacation (such as blizzard-like conditions), overall I have yet to meet an effective telecommuter. Pretty much all of them suddenly become a lot less effective at their jobs and a great hindrance to everyone else's jobs.

    I suppose there might be some kind of tele-fu style that allows a telecommuting worker to be effective and subtle while s
    • by Max_W (812974)
      There are more effective and cheaper ways to spread information than physical meetings and ad-hoc conversations.

      Someone who has to work with these people telecommuting could arrange net meetings, say, via Skype, internal discussion forums, etc. It is more effective than flying or driving people around for meetings.

      But because there are backward people still in the organizations, the telecommuting sucks for such organizations. They either will have to change, or die out before long from the market. Becau

    • by clam666 (1178429)

      I've noticed that people who oppose telecommuting are the same people that need constant "management" and "training" and being "in the loop", and accuse the telecommuters of not paying attention to what's going on, become ineffective, etc.

      I think what's being seen is how much uselessness actually goes on in companies, and what's revealed when the victims of that uselessness stop showing up.

      I'e noticed, in my meandering experience, that most companies are held together by a few winners and a crap load

  • by schwit1 (797399) on Wednesday January 23, 2008 @11:21PM (#22162858)
    Alcohol and tobacco should be regulated by the FDA, and firearms and explosives by the FBI.


    Every federal agency should have to periodically justify its existence and some should be abolished. An agency can be outdated or it's functions better done by another agency or the states. Unfortunately the federal government has become a jobs program.

    • by Kjella (173770)
      You know how much fun it is to reorganize a business with department heads fighting for turf? The government is so much worse, that by the time you're done you wish you never started. After a while, they learn.
    • There's a problem with trying to abolish the BATFE. Some years ago, ATF abuses got so severe toward firearms license holders and other gun owners that Congressional hearing were held. Congress was leaning toward exactly the sort of breakup you describe. FBI quashed the whole idea by throwing a fit.

      Special Agents in the BATFE are, you must understand, essentially the bottom of the barrel of federal law enforcement. Badge-heavy and generally less than competent, the guys who get a badge there are the ones
    • by kabocox (199019)
      Every federal agency should have to periodically justify its existence and some should be abolished. An agency can be outdated or it's functions better done by another agency or the states. Unfortunately the federal government has become a jobs program.

      I've always thought that its been that way since the whole New Deal thing.
    • Every federal agency should have to periodically justify its existence and some should be abolished. An agency can be outdated or it's functions better done by another agency or the states. Unfortunately the federal government has become a jobs program.

      Yeah, I think it's been that way for a long, long time though. I started wondering, when hearing proposals for radical tax simplification which would all but eliminate the IRS (Flat Tax, Fair Tax, whatever you want to call it) - has there ever been a case

  • I think having the freedom to work at home, at least for part of the time, is a huge benefit. Having this option is one of the reasons I haven't gone for a higher-paying job -- it's a perk I'm willing to "pay for."

    Cutting out the miserable commutes that many of us have to endure is a major quality-of-life booster. Every day I don't spend that 3 hours in traffic or on the train is more enjoyable. Plus, we reduce our foreign oil dependence. For jobs like mine, it's actually a huge help not having to be around
    • by Max_W (812974)
      The major "class disparity" that will be present between office workers and service workers could be reduced by the change of the technology of things, which must be serviced.

      For example, the car service could be partly done by telecommuting, if the car computer constructed in such a way that it allows a Wi-Fi connection for diagnostics.

      The construction of everything should be done with telecommuting in mind.

  • by Von Helmet (727753) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @09:24AM (#22165698)

    "Telecommute" is a stupid word - the literal meaning of the word is completely at odds with the meaning of the word as it is used. Telecommute means to travel a long distance. Tele means far, commute means to travel, particularly to work. Hence telecommute means to travel a long distance to work. The roots are similar to television (literally far seeing) and telephone (lterally far hearing).

    However, telecommuting - as the word is used - is the problem, not the solution. The problem is having to commute a long way to work. The solution is using technology to allow you to work from home, which is not what telecommute means at all. Obviously whoever coined the word thought "tele" sounded suitably technological, so decided to use that. A far better word for the solution would be "e-commuting" or something similar, even if it does involve the much overused "e-" prefix. At least that would make sense.

    Stupid English language...

  • Wasn't there a Dilbert comic a few years back, where Dogbert described his dream job to the boss...

    Pointy-Haired Boss: "So, you'd stay at home and we'd send you checks?"

    Dogbert: "Actually, I was hoping for direct deposit."
  • Isn't telecommuting the first step toward being outsourced? I mean if you can do it from home, you can do it from India, or China...where-ever. How long before government functions are outsourced to lower-paid workers in other countries? Or are government salaries low enough to not be at risk for cheaper outsourcing? ;^/

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