This past Sunday, the White House instructed all agencies in the Washington area to carry out “maximum telework flexibilities,” and on Monday they instructed offices throughout the United States to do the same.
However, another plea for a complete mandatory telework policy for eligible federal employees and contractors during this coronavirus pandemic came from over 60 House members. Members say that previous guidance from the Office of Management and Budget advising agencies to expand telework isn’t enough, and the requests are still being denied. Congressmen Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and 62 others made their case in a new letter to the president.
With the federal agencies across government that are teleworking, these entities are beginning to feel the burden of the number of employees working remotely. Networks are hitting critical max as they are pushed to the limits that they are capable of. These are introducing newfound pressures on their various software and systems as employees access virtual private networks to conduct their daily operations outside of the normal office settings.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has been encountering obstacles in its roll out, after multiple regional offices in the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) told employees to work remotely full time. VBA’s office in Washington, D.C. later told those offices to undo that mandate, citing concerns with network infrastructure. A VA spokesperson said regional office directors were “encouraged to make decisions regarding workplace flexibilities based on the circumstances in their communities,” while noting they were asked to “discuss plans with VBA central office leadership to ensure coordination across the country,” reported Government Executive.
The Army Corps of Engineers is no stranger to these network issues that telework can create if the infrastructure and policies aren’t the norm: an employee noted that management told employees only one-third of the agency’s workforce could telework at a time because of VPN restrictions.
The DoD released a number of prohibited sites that cannot be accessed while on the Pentagon’s network including YouTube and Pandora. including YouTube on the Pentagon’s network, citing increased demands. “Given the increased telework demand, we’ve seen a tremendous increase on the network, unprecedented demand just over the last weekend or so,” Essye Miller, the department’s principal deputy chief information officer, said in a virtual town hall for employees this week. She stressed that employees need to utilize the same cybersecurity practices from home as they do in the office, promising updated guidance to follow. Miller also asked employees to only use devices they “absolutely need” when teleworking on the defense network. Employees working in a classified system or with any classified information cannot work remotely, but some of those workers may be eligible for administrative leave.
Another issue arising is that several agencies need funding for more bandwidth, VPN licensing and other software tools to support widespread remote employees. Other agencies need funding for temporary workers and overtime, among other things, like the IRS needing funds to send out coronavirus-related tax relief.
With other activities postponed due to coronavirus, no one could see this coming,, but agencies and industry are working hard to get to a place where telework feels like the norm.
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