Some federal agencies reported that during the pandemic, telework hours comprised more than 80% of total work time.
Given this increase, agencies want to make decisions about telework policies, office space, and more—which require accurate data. But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says longstanding telework data issues continue.
GAO has previously made a number of recommendations to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that could help improve the reliability of federal telework data but says OPM has yet to implement most of them.
In 2016, GAO made four recommendations to OPM related to improving the reliability of its federal payroll data system, including telework information. OPM agreed with the recommendations and has implemented one related to data standards. However, OPM has not developed a plan to address the remaining three recommendations—consistently monitor error reports, integrate payroll data into a larger suite of databases, and strengthen internal control activities.
Given the issues with OPM’s data, GAO collected telework information directly from 24 agencies. These data initially had limitations so GAO followed up with each agency to clarify outliers and collect missing data. The data showed that all 24 agencies increased their use of telework in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-pandemic, in January 2020, 13 agencies reported at least a quarter of their employees teleworked to some degree. By April 2020, all 24 agencies reported at least a quarter of employees teleworked, with nine agencies reporting at least 90 percent of their employees teleworked. Similarly, by April through June 2020, more agencies had employees teleworking full-time. Pre-pandemic, at nearly all 24 agencies, less than a quarter of teleworking employees did so full time. During the pandemic, 14 agencies had at least a quarter of teleworking employees doing so full time.
Agencies are considering future workplace changes that include modifications to requirements to report regularly to an agency worksite. Additionally, agencies are considering reducing facilities and infrastructure.
As agencies contemplate the future of work for millions of federal employees, GAO says it is important for OPM to have accurate data on federal telework to support oversight. The government watchdog therefore wants Congress to consider requiring OPM to develop a plan, consistent with GAO recommendations, to improve federal telework data reliability.