Before the current surge of federal employees working remotely due to the Coronavirus, telework in federal agencies had largely flattened off, OPM has reported.
The report, dated March but just released, shows that in 2018, 42 percent of federal (non-postal) employees were eligible to telework, down one percentage point from 2017 and the same as in 2016. The figure had fallen from 47 percent in 2012 over the three following years.
Meanwhile, the percentage of telework-eligible employees who had worked remotely in the year was 51 percent, up two points from 2017 but again the same as in 2016. Before 2016, that share had risen steadily from the 29 percent of 2012.
Of those who teleworked, 45 percent did it only situationally, with 34 percent three or more times per month, 26 percent one or two days per month and six percent once per month. Those figures also were about the same as in the prior year.
The report also included data from the 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey showing that of those ineligible for telework, about two-thirds said the reason was that they must be physically present at the job but almost all of the rest said that their job lends itself to teleworking but management did not approve it.
In addition, about a tenth of federal employees have said over the years that they are eligible to telework but choose not to do so – many of whom likely are now teleworking under virus-related agency policies.
The report did not mention moves by several major agencies to cut back on the availability and frequency of telework in the last several years. Those moves were criticized by federal employee unions at the time, and again recently by unions and some members of Congress, as undercutting the government’s continuity of operations capabilities for just such a situation as the one now at hand.
As in prior reports, OPM cautioned that the figures are not exact because agencies differ in how they account for telework. There has been no government-wide count of how many federal employees currently are teleworking.