Someone must lead on BYOD reimbursement

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Many agencies are talking about bring your own device, or BYOD, strategies and they can now be categorized into three distinct categories: the talkers, the walkers and those with their feet nailed to the floor.

Among those who have been teasing BYOD plans are the Veterans Affairs Department and the Health and Human Services Department. The VA has said its forthcoming BYOD strategy won't be "overly prescriptive" and HHS outlined concrete plans to launch BYOD in its recently-published mobility strategy. But it's unclear what further action the departments have taken.

Other agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which rolled out its BYOD program in June, are actually giving BYOD a try.

And finally, there are agencies such as the Agriculture Department, which have BYOD on their radar but are reluctant to act. During a Nov. 15 event Brad Nix, chief information security officer of USDA's food and nutrition service, said USDA recently developed a mobile policy that included BYOD. But when the department's security shop saw the draft it requested that all BYOD language be removed in favor of a separate policy specific to BYOD. Nix called the last minute change a "minor setback."

While agencies and departments vary widely in BYOD maturity, no one appears ready to act on reimbursement.

The Internal Revenue Service said it may use a subsidized model, where it would instruct employees to go to pre-selected providers for subsidized prices. Or it could simply contribute a flat reimbursement amount per month, toward the costs associated with the phone.

It's likely EEOC will opt to approach mobile reimbursement much as it does its transit benefits. It could provide something in the range of $10 to $20 per month to cover mobile costs.

But, as VA's Mobile Infrastructure and Device Director D.J. Kachman pointed out while speaking on a panel in August, it's difficult to draw the line. If workers expect reimbursement for wireless costs, teleworkers might naturally demand it for home Internet and phone.

"If you're going to do BYOD for a phone, why not do it for the chair you're sitting in?" he asked.

There are a lot of lingering questions and factors to consider when it comes to reimbursing government employees for using their personal devices. Everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to take the lead and set the standard. But until an agency decides to jump first on the issue of repayment, BYOD strategies across government could remain stalled. - Molly