A workable approach to BRAC

Agencies try to attract, retain employees with telecommute options

September 09, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

If he had to show up every day in his office at the Defense Information Systems Agency, Greg Krawczyk says he probably wouldn't be working there. The round-trip commute between his waterfront Pasadena home and the agency's headquarters in Arlington, Va., can take 2 1/2 to four hours - sometimes longer, depending on traffic and weather.

But thanks to the agency's liberal tele-work and work schedule policy, Krawczyk, 48, says he only has to make that grueling drive around congested Washington every other workday. The other days, he's able to sit down and log on to the agency's secure computer network in a modest cinderblock building at Fort Meade, about 30 minutes' drive from his house.

"It's a job saver," says Krawczyk, who helps handle contracts and support agreements for DISA, as the agency is known.

Krawczyk is one of a growing number of Maryland residents joining the defense agency in anticipation of its relocation to Fort Meade four years from now, as part of the nationwide military base realignment ordered by Congress and known as BRAC.

With employee surveys showing that many defense workers say they will quit or retire rather than follow their jobs to Maryland, federal officials are considering expanded telecommuting as a strategy for recruiting workers in the state and reducing turnover. In DISA's case, officials also are hoping liberal workplace policies will help attract more new employees like Krawczyk near the agency's future home. That reduces the risk of losing them later once the agency moves to its $579 million offices planned on what is now Fort Meade's golf course.

"We're very aggressively recruiting in Maryland," says David Bullock, DISA's base realignment executive. "We're doing everything we can in Maryland to let people know that DISA is coming and if you want to work for us now, we'll be happy to have you."

The push to hire Marylanders appears to be showing results. While slightly more than three-fourths of the agency's headquarters workers once lived in Virginia, Bullock says, that percentage lately has slipped to about 71 percent.

The agency is scheduled to move 4,272 jobs to Fort Meade when it relocates its headquarters by 2011, including about 1,500 "embedded" contractor positions. Another 3,000 to 5,000 contract workers who perform work for and with DISA also may relocate.

Bullock says he doesn't know how big of a factor telecommuting plays in attracting new hires from Maryland. The agency liberalized its policy from allowing one day a week out of the office to two a few months before the base-realignment decision was announced.

But he says agency officials have seen a softening of resistance among workers toward relocating to Maryland.

Shortly after the agency's move was announced in 2005, more than half of those polled said they would not follow their jobs to Maryland when the agency relocates. A follow-up survey late last year found that the percentage unwilling to follow their jobs had dropped to about 30 percent.

"We felt pretty good about that," says Bullock. But surveys of employees at Fort Monmouth, N.J., whose jobs are scheduled to move to Aberdeen Proving Ground by 2011, have indicated an even greater reluctance to relocate.

Krawczyk, who signed on with DISA seven months ago after getting out of the Navy, says the freedom to work away from the office was key for him. And being able to pop over to Fort Meade every other day helps him put up with the grind until the agency does relocate, he says.

"The time-saving is huge, the back and forth, wear and tear on my vehicle, the gas. ... I venture to say I wouldn't still be at DISA if I couldn't telecommute," Krawczyk says. "I can't wait until 2010 or 2011."

If any military entity is likely to be promoting telecommuting, it's DISA, which provides information technology for the armed services. Its work force includes 5,200 civilians, the bulk of them based in the Washington area, according to the agency's Web site. DISA also employs 1,900 uniformed military personnel and other civilians in the area and 29 field offices worldwide, the site says.

Most workers with the freedom to telecommute do so from home, but Krawczyk says he finds that too distracting. So two or three times a week, he joins a couple of other DISA workers at one of the six cubicles inside the agency's tele-work center at Fort Meade.

"I can do 90 to 95 percent of my job," he says, with his laptop plugged into the agency network. His presence in the office is only necessary to handle required paperwork. With only a couple of other workers around, he says, he can be more productive at the tele-work center because there aren't a lot of people "bopping in and out."

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