Security Issues Need Not Halt Telework, Says Group

Cites need to ensure continuity of federal operations in a disaster

by / August 1, 2005
Cyber Security Industry Alliance (CSIA), the only public policy and advocacy group dedicated exclusively to cyber security, last week released a report, "Making Telework a Federal Priority: Security is Not the Issue," which calls for increased adoption of telework by the federal government. The paper highlights telework as a viable strategy for ensuring continuity of federal operations during a disaster and calls on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ensure all agencies include telework plans in their contingencies and continuity of operations (COOP) plans.

"It is a fairly common misconception that cyber security concerns are holding back telework in the federal government. However, our research indicates that not only are the cyber security and technology requirements achievable, but that telework can in fact be beneficial to an agency's overall security by providing a viable strategy for maintaining continuity of operations during a security incident or natural disaster," said Paul Kurtz, executive director of CSIA. "Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear that Washington must prepare itself for a disruption to its transportation system. A more flexible workforce that is able to work from virtual locations would certainly lessen the impact of an attack."

In addition to business continuity planning, other benefits of telework include the reduction of traffic congestion and air pollution, as well as productivity and retention gains for employers, which have been well- documented in the private sector where telework is more common.

According to the report, the federal government has made little progress on telework despite 15 years of pilot programs, presidential directives, legislative mandates and even the threat to cut funding for substandard efforts. After analyzing the obstacles to telework in the federal sector, CSIA determined that cultural and budgetary barriers, not technology ones, are hampering its adoption.

The two biggest obstacles standing in the way of expanding telework in the federal sector are weak incentives for agencies since they must return any money saved from reduced overhead expenses, such as office space costs, to the federal treasury and lack of support from managers who prefer to have employees in the same physical location. Other barriers cited by the General Accounting Office (GAO) include a lack of full funding to support telework initiatives and a shortage of training and information on telework. GAO did not list technology or cyber security as an obstacle.

In addition to encouraging OMB to have agencies include telework in their COOP plans, CSIA outlines the following policy recommendations to the administration and Congress to expand federal telework programs:
  • Include telework in the President's Management Agenda (PMA) for e-government. PMA calls for expanding e-government and creating an effective IT workforce. Its goal is to make the federal government the best manager, innovator and user of information, services and information systems in the world. Telework clearly falls within PMA's stated goals and CSIA encourages the White House to highlight telework in the PMA.
  • Provide endorsement by the highest levels of federal agency management. Telework requires a commitment from employees and management to be successful. Top managers must be clear, forceful and sincere in their endorsement of telework initiatives.
  • Encourage state and local governments to adopt telework. As a public sector leader, the federal government should be a role model for state and local government agencies, who could also benefit greatly from telework programs. federal government should be a role model for state and local government agencies Explore new benefits for telework. Congress and the administration should continually look to tap new benefits from telework. CSIA is planning a public-private Town Hall Forum on "Making Telework a Federal Priority" later this year to help create further discussion.
Today's report also offers cyber security guidelines for ensuring a safe telework environment and provides telework resources for federal managers and employees.