Federal workers report gaps in family care Some report child, adult care problems.

April 30, 1992|By Karen J. Cohen | Karen J. Cohen,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Federal employees say flexible work schedules and some leave policies help them fulfill family responsibilities, but there are gaps in programs that make it hard for workers to care for their young children or aged parents.

These were two of the findings in a survey of federal workers released yesterday by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The survey, commissioned by Congress, sought to determine the work and family needs of the 1.3 million federal work force.

About 58,000 white-collar workers from 29 agencies nationwide answered questions designed to determine what percentage of the federal workforce needs family care programs and the level of satisfaction with current programs.

The survey results also suggest ways for government agencies to improve family care policies.

About 24 percent of all federal employees are single parents of children under 13, or parents of children under 13 years old in a household where both parents work.

About 12 percent of federal workers care for dependent adults.

A majority -- about 69 percent -- of employees who care for dependents are satisfied with the balance in their work and home life. Slightly more than half said their employers understand and are supportive of their family responsibilities. Less than half -- 46 percent -- of the single parents said employers were responsive to their needs.

And while 74 percent of employees are satisfied with their current child care arrangements, 26 percent of those who want to place their children in employer-sponsored programs say they can't because it is too expensive.

The survey comes on the heels of a recent General Accounting Office report that criticized the federal government's family policies, saying they are not as good as those of large corporations such as IBM.

"The government has been, in many cases, the inventor of these things, and the situation is not as bad as the GAO would want you to believe," said Mike Orenstein, spokesman for OPM, who added that the survey was not in response to the GAO report.

Other survey results include:

* The availability of child care programs is limited and uneven among various agencies.

* Almost three-quarters of employees with young children, or who are single mothers, used annual vacation leave to meet their dependents' needs.

* Fifty-five percent of employees have maternity leave provisions in their labor contracts. A quarter have paternity leave.

* Most agencies do not have elder care services.

* Nineteen federal agencies have formal dependent leave policies. More than 90 percent of employees with young children in day care or with dependent adults are satisfied with a leave-sharing program where colleagues donate vacation time to a co-worker in need.

Among other suggestions, the OPM recommended establishing a work and family program center to help agencies formulate policies; a flexible benefit program where employees can choose dependent care instead of another benefit, and stronger flexible work programs.

Federal labor leaders were less than enthusiastic about the survey.

"We find that many employees are very frustrated with family policies," said Lynn Epperd, legislative director for Federally Employed Women, an advocacy group. "The current policy is a conglomeration of programs not put together in a cohesive way. People still have child care needs above what the government provides."

Ms. Epperd said in recent surveys by her group, 60 percent of respondents said they did not believe they had adequate access to flexible working arrangements.

The OPM survey reported that 54 percent of those with dependent care needs used flexible or compressed work schedules, while 77 percent would like to.

The American Federation of Government Employees, with 700,000 members, also said that more needs to be done. "We believe very strongly that the federal government has an obligation to be a model employer when it comes to family issues," said Janice Lachance, AFGE spokes woman.

"Studies like this are helpful but it's not news that families need two incomes to make ends meet," she said. "They need day care and parents are living longer. We would like to work with [OPM] but it is time to take steps to solve these problems and put programs in place."

More than 14,000 federal workers in the Baltimore area work for the Social Security Administration, where two on-site day care facilities have opened in the last year -- one in downtown Baltimore and one at the headquarters in Woodlawn.

Social Security Commissioner Gwendolyn S. King is concerned about issues of family leave, said agency spokesman Frank Battistelli. "In terms of a family leave policy, there is no animal named family leave," he said. "But we do have annual leave, sick leave and leave without pay and we encourage the managers to be liberal and flexible."

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