Federal Agencies Forge Closer Bonds with MEC Telework Centers

Posted: July 15, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Amy Biderman

The Fairfax Telework Center, a General Services Administration-funded program of the Mason Enterprise Center (MEC), recently hosted a meeting of the federal government’s Chief Human Capital Officers Council. During the meeting, participants learned how such telework centers can contribute to the effectiveness of the federal workforce and received guidance on implementing telework programs.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) chose the Fairfax Telework Center for the meeting and distributed a news release on the visit, which was aimed at increasing participation in telecommuting arrangements for 1.8 million federal workers. In the release, OPM Director Kay Coles James, who attended the meeting, thanked the Mason Enterprise Center “for its dedication to this important issue.”

In addition to the Fairfax location, the MEC operates telework centers in Herndon, Manassas, Sterling, Stafford, and Woodbridge, with a sixth center being developed on the main level of the new Bull Run Hall on George Mason’s Prince William Campus. MEC’s telework centers offer government agencies and private companies an almost turnkey environment to house employees during emergencies—fire, building failure, or terrorist attack—when the normal office site may not be available. Facilities typically provide computers, Internet access, e-mail and file transfer capabilities, digital telephone systems with voicemail, fax and copy machines, and onsite technical support.

Telework centers also offer the agencies locations that might be closer to employees’ homes. Employees can telework from the centers on a regular basis, and, in the case of an emergency, this provides a location that is not entirely foreign to them.

While federal legislation passed in October 2000 directed federal agencies to establish telecommuting policies for eligible employees, the option has made slow progress. Some members of Congress plan to introduce legislation to promote telecommuting in the government workforce by creating pilot programs or financially penalizing agencies that do not have such programs in place.

To encourage agencies to use established telework centers, the House recently passed legislation, introduced by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), to withhold federal funds to Cabinet-level agencies that don’t meet a minimum level of 25 percent employee participation in telecommuting programs. In addition, discussions are under way to introduce legislation that would withhold budget money from all agencies that don’t meet the same objective.

“This will make a significant impact on the demand for Mason Enterprise Center’s telework facilities,” says Keith Segerson, MEC managing director. “Our goal is to work closely with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to ensure that we can meet its employee requirements for teleworking today and in the future.”

Segerson notes that within a couple of days of the tour, OPM Director James initiated a contract agreement for use of 10 workstations in the Fairfax Telework Center under the federal government’s continuity of operations plan (COOP). “This is the third COOP agreement with different agencies that the Mason Enterprise Center has contracted this year, with several more in the negotiation stage. As a result of 9/11, this type of disaster recovery planning is gaining ground and really focusing federal agencies’ attention on teleworking opportunities for their employees.”

Among the federal agencies participating in the meeting at the MEC were the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, State, and Transportation, as well as the General Services Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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