A17: INCREASE THE PRODUCTIVITY OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES
FEDERAL AGENCIES AS CUSTOMERS OF FEDERAL SERVICES Imagine this: A snowstorm is predicted for the Washington, DC area and federal employees are instructed to use alternative work sites for the day. The employees are given the flexibility to decide what would be most beneficial to their customers. Some decide to go to the customers' workplaces, some work at home, some work at a telecommuting site, while others work from a library. Some employees arrange to take their children to school and use laptop computers at the school media center to be available to drive their children home if schools close early due to weather. Hours of commute time delays are avoided and all government services are available as usual.
In the private sector today, a virtual office concept is evolving rapidly across the country as businesses capitalize on their use of information technology to redefine the workplace. Existing technology makes the virtual office possible, a work situation where mobile access to computer systems, e-mail, desk top video, telecommunications, faxes, and services are all available. Employees are being equipped with mobile workstations to provide direct customer service while traveling, as a telecommuter, from the home, from a customer location, or from an official work site. With the advent of advanced wireless technologies, connectivity will soon be available anywhere, anytime. The federal government must evolve with this technology and redefine its concept of the workplace.
Employees need convenient and timely access to services and information to perform their jobs. Creating a government that works better and costs less requires improving the use of government information resources across and within agencies, and especially among federal employees. It requires empowering employees to use information technology tools to streamline work processes and eliminate unnecessary paperwork and manual procedures.
Although some progress is being made, much remains to be done. Federal agencies need to evaluate how they conduct their business processes and reengineer them before they apply information technology solutions. Far too many administrative processes that are redundant across government agencies and rely on manual activities still exist.
NEED FOR CHANGE
The federal government must find better ways of providing service to its most valuable internal customers -- the employees. Information technology is being used extensively to redefine the workplace. Physical locations are slowly becoming less relevant as modern networks allow work to be performed from homes, telecommuting centers, libraries, schools, and anywhere connectivity is available. In addition to the obvious savings such as space and commuting costs, other significant benefits result from employees serving customers with increased efficiency. Examples abound in business, where it is commonplace today to see package delivery workers carrying wireless mobile terminals to enter real time information about the packages being delivered. Customers can get status information about their deliveries in minutes.
Government has many opportunities to realize these same benefits. For example, while visiting a military hospital, a case worker could access a veteran's medical record and provide immediate answers about benefits to a veteran, or a family member. The many government workers who interview customers to perform their jobs could enter information directly into computer systems rather than taking pencil notes to be keyed at a later time. In short, like the private sector, the government should move the workforce to the customer rather than relying on the customer to come to the government location.
Reengineering is a trend across the United States where businesses are gaining significant results by improving internal processes. It requires rethinking basic work flows and utilizing technologies such as the Internet and intranets. Many businesses use these internal networks to redefine their administrative work flows. In government there are numerous administrative functions that should be redefined to make greater use of technology. The government should identify a target work process that can become a proof-of-concept to demonstrate improvements in work flows. For example, the Official Personnel File is an extremely important document for each federal employee. It is the only repository that contains an employee's work history, pay, performance, beneficiaries, health benefits, and other data. The information maintained is critical in determining a number of important issues involving the employee, such as retirement pay and death benefits. At present, these files are largely paper-based physical folders containing hundreds of pieces of paper that are manually filed by government personnel. Every personnel action usually requires filling out and mailing a form, pulling a physical personnel file, updating records, re-filing, and mailing back some kind of receipt to show the action as completed. Often times, phone calls or facsimile messages are needed to clarify requests or obtain additional information. The files are subject to destruction from causes such as fire, water damage, or vehicular accidents while being transported between storage facilities in Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.
An electronic filing system would streamline this entire process, reduce the chances of total destruction and the number of misspellings in records, and decrease the amount of staff required to maintain the folders. An electronic system would also afford employees easy access to their records. Such a system could eliminate several manual steps inherent in today's system of manual record-keeping, improve accuracy, and assure integrity of employee information. Automating the processes associated with the Official Personnel File should be a target for demonstrating the opportunities to use information technology to reengineer internal administrative systems.
The following actions are required to move the government towards a virtual office environment and to initiate a program to reengineer a common administrative system.
ACTIONS1. Develop an operational model of a mobile workplace.
The General Services Administration, in conjunction with the Office of Personnel Management, should form a work group to identify the opportunities and barriers for a mobile workplace. The work group should examine models being used in the private sector and define options available for the federal government. An operational model (or several models) should be presented to the Government Information Technology Services (GITS) Board and be ready for demonstration by September 1997.
2. Develop an implementation plan and prototype for an electronic Official Personnel File system.
The Office of Personnel Management should develop requirements for an electronic Official Personnel File system and produce an implementation plan that addresses the safeguards needed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of employee information. This plan should be completed by June 1998 and presented to the GITS Board. A prototype system should be available by December 1998 and a fully operational system should be on-line by June 1999.
3. Identify and promote intranet technologies to perform administrative functions.
The GITS Board should create an interagency task force to identify and promote intranet technologies to perform administrative functions. This task force should review government and industry intranet-based technologies used to perform travel management, personnel, property, contracting support, and other similar general administrative functions. The task force should publicize these technologies to government administrators through the use of workshops, forums, and conferences.