USDA: A Model for Cost-Savings

Each year the Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds approximately 17 million dollars in transit subsidies for employees across the country to encourage the use of mass transit for commuting purposes in order to reduce traffic congestion, dangerous greenhouse emissions and pollutants.

Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2011, USDA has programmed an average of $1.3 million dollars per month for transit fare alone (not including the funding fees, vendor charges and postage for mailing media) for approximately 9,850 of its employees- representing approximately only 8% of its total workforce.

In alignment with the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, USDA recently determined that more than 70% of its total workforce is eligible to participate in telework. Based on a cost savings model used from the Telework Research Network, if those employees who currently receiving transit subsidies and are eligible to telework desired to add just two additional days of telework per week and opted to reduce their transit subsidy to work from home or from an alternate worksite closer to their home- USDA would save nearly $1 million, or more, per year.

Furthermore, based on a GSA report that outlined assumptions about other telework savings for the Federal government- in real estate, turnover, absenteeism and productivity- the annual savings for USDA could total more than $250 million! Global implications could mean a savings of as much as 100 thousand barrels of oil and 18 thousand tons of greenhouse gasses.

Over the past 11 months since the Telework Enhancement Act was passed in December 2010, the USDA Telework Program has accomplished enormous strides.  USDA is recognized as one of just a few Federal Departments that met all the requirements set forth by the June 7, 2011 deadline of the Enactment and now serves as a model for powering progress in Telework across the Federal government by effectively creating a true paradigm shift in its workforce culture and quickly linking to significant cost-savings initiatives.

Since January of 2011, USDA has moved out with lighting speed to completely revamp its Telework Program and below is the timeline of its major accomplishments relative to the Enactment:

  • Appointed Telework Managing Officer (TMO)- December 2010
  • Published new Telework Program Departmental Regulation (DR 4080-811-002)- January 2011
  • Developed new standardized  USDA Telework Agreement Forms (AD-3018)- February 2011
  • Launched new interactive Telework training- March 2011
  • Incorporated Telework into USDA’s Continuity of Operations Plan

(COOP) exercises- May 2011

  • Determined eligibility and notified all USDA employees- June 2011
  • Created new Telework monthly metrics reporting template- August 2011

These efforts have resulted in some impressive results. The total number of USDA employees eligible to participate in Telework is now at 76,879 (73%) – up from 16,000 (15%) reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2010.  As an example of the magnitude of USDA’s Telework Program improvements, the Department reports a total of 17,701 Telework agreements approved in the month of September alone. According to the 2011 Federal ViewPoint Survey, Telework was the most improved area according to USDA employees.

The USDA also participated in several national campaigns to promote Telework this year such as National Telework Week and International Car-Free Day- at no cost. The results ended up in hundreds of USDA employees Teleworking throughout these events which also culminated in some significant cost savings.

Based on the above calculations, USDA was able to save $2 million in upfront transit subsidy funding in September 2011 when executing the Fiscal Year 2012 contract with Department of Transportation for its employee Transit Subsidy Program. The $2 million saved was based in large part on projected Telework participation rates and its aggressive Departmental goals to have 40% or more of it eligible workforce participating in telework.  These goals and progress towards reaching them will continue to reduce the need for the current levels of transit subsidies funded.


Mika J. Cross
Department of Agriculture

If this same model was applied government wide, similar telework participation/transit subsidy decreases would save Federal Agencies more than $4.5 billion per year, reduce greenhouse gases by 309 thousand tons and save 1.7 million barrels of oil (valued at $156 million).

Reductions in funding Transit Subsidies by increasing telework would also help to stimulate the economy by saving federal employees between $350 and $1,000 per year and would allow them to recoup up to 6 full work days per year- time they would have otherwise spent commuting back and forth to their traditional offices.

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