Bridging the Gap Between Legislation and Technology

Jul 13, 2012

According to an article in Federal Computer Week, the recent storm outages across the Washington, D.C. area show a weakness in the federal telework policy.  In this situation, telework did not provide this area with effective disaster recovery (DR) or continuity of operations capabilities.  This leads me to believe that we need to help bring government policy and technology together to improve the quality of legislation that deals with technology solutions.

The 2010 Telework Enhancement Act is identified as the initiator of a federal telework program.  However, this Act contains gaps that we see often and will continue to see when legislation around technology-based solutions only focuses on policy, without consideration to the IT outcomes of that policy.  The Act defines eligibility guidelines for who can telework; it provides monitoring, reporting, policy and support guidelines and assigns roles such as a Telework Managing Officer.  It also indicates that each agency needs to establish their individual telework policy based on this legislation.  Finally, there are a couple of references to telework policies being incorporated into agency continuity of operations plans in the event of an emergency.  This is the legislative perspective, taken without insight to how the policy will be implemented and what the desired outcomes will be.  From the IT perspective, the first glaring gap is that there is no clear indication as to the intent of the legislation.  There are a number of them when discussing telework policies, including  saving money, improving employee satisfaction or providing greater disaster recovery (DR) and continuity of operations capabilities, to name a few.

The point is: in order to design and implement an appropriate technology solution in the federal arena, there needs to be clearly defined outcomes because design considerations differ depending on those desired outcomes.  Assuming each agency did create a desired outcome statement for their telework policies, DR cannot be one of them unless other non-technology policies change.  For the metro D.C. area telework use case, DR is not a viable desired outcome simply because the vast majority of teleworkers live within a small geographical area, all having the likelihood of being impacted by the same major disaster or outage.  In my opinion, If DR is a desired outcome for telework, agencies will need to focus on geographically dispersing personnel who perform the same, or similar, work functions to support the DR outcome.  This is just one example of where our legislative policymaking regarding IT needs to be more focused on how the IT outcomes relate to the legislative intent.

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