With COVID-19 redefining our workspaces, INSA Summit 2020‘s Breakout 2: The Cleared Workforce in a Post-Covid World took a look at the key takeaways as we move past the current pandemic.

Lessons from COVID-19 Life for the Cleared Workforce

LGT Robert Noonan, chairman of the AFCEA Intelligence Committee kicked the session off by asking the panelists about existing challenges with a dispersed workforce, the impacts of those challenges, and what they might predict will happen in the future in the post COVID-19 cleared world.

Johnny Sawyer – Chief of Staff, DIA

DIA’s Chief of Staff kicked off the discussion by stressing the need for the cleared workforce to be able to operate in a degraded environment. COVID-19 – challenged the assumptions we had about our work, clarifying what was critical in a classified environment and what can be done remotely. Swayer explained that unclassified networks weren’t developed to operate outside, so those networks had to be shored up for people outside the facilities. The team determined what could be done outside the office versus what needed to be completed inside to maintain continuity. DIA then put systems in place to best meet the balance. 

Sawyer encouraged the cleared workforce to not waste a crisis. We need to look at how to improve our workforce so we come back better. By looking at mission imperatives, we can navigate how to make them happen in an unclassified environment. 

Sawyer  emphasized the impact of Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System (MARS), and the priority that the mission is for the DIA. Sawyers explained that it’s the future of how we’re going to understand fighting. According to Sawyer, policies need to be adjusted to ensure workers are able to better accomplish work in a distributed environment. And let’s not forget the need to rely on partners – in industry and IC.

“What we learned is something we already knew – we need strong relationships. Industry needs to help us to understand the art of the possible and maintain our competitive edge. COVID-19 environment taught us that we need to do things a lot faster than before – pivot sooner,” said Johnny Sawyer.

Christopher Bellios, COO, Hexagon

Hexagon’s COO, Christopher Bellios explained the initial response to telework and lessons learned from their perspective. Bellios also provided some timely recommendations. While most of us are looking at when we will return to our old normal, Bellios challenges the industry to look at moving forward better. Hexagon quickly adopted a remote work environment and focused on the health and welfare of the employees. Protocols that have been put in place for safety will have long term benefits for reducing other illnesses. As for those working in SCIFs, Hexagon employees implemented shifts and proper spacing in order to maintain SCIF operations.

Bellios complemented the contracting officers who spend hours unpacking the CARES Act, section 3610. While the original plan was that the pandemic would be over by the end of the CARES Act expiration date of September 30, Bellios confirmed that it did help the industry find innovative ways to meet needs. It’s important to remember that this is not a snow day or a normal inside the beltway interruption to work, so it’s crucial to have plans in place like CARES Act to ensure long term continuity on mission support. We have to relook at how cleared talent can continue to provide value without physically being there. 

Moving, forward, it’s clear that real estate in the DC metro area will change. Remote work is a necessity. And while we haven’t embraced it in the past, we now have an opportunity to focus on this and save real estate costs. We can entice employees who are geographically placed by removing barriers to entry in the IC – like geography. There’s a lot we can do at the unclassified level with remote work, and it creates an opportunity to maintain telework post COVID. Bellios emphasized the need to advance our abilities in the IC. Security challenges are there, but this is a great time to resolve these challenges. We need to prepare now for the next crisis. 

Bellios recommended that since many companies have SCIFs, we need to create a co-use accreditation. Mutual agreements with SCIFs are needed in order to allow flexibility to work with greater latitude. Because accreditation varies by agency, this could help our small business partners too.

Judi Dotson, Executive Vice President, Booz Allen

Booz Allens Executive VP Judi Dotson discussed talent management and our role in the IC moving forward. Dotson mentioned the talent level across the country, and the benefit of the pandemic is that it connected talent with companies in a way that has happened before. The administrative costs savings has helped companies like Booz Allen do more.

Dotson explained that Booz Allen is working on mission continuity with SCIF work, and it’s clear that a shared or co-used space would help those efforts. Dotson concurs with Bellios that not every individual project team needs to build their own structure. 

Dotson confirmed that with COVID, social injustice, political environment, hurricanes, and fires are stressing people out, which is why Booz Allen is doubling down on its efforts to close the gap with meaningful engagements with its people. The connections between people are important. 

Dotson said that her team has noticed that across the national security market, government leadership has respected its workforce and operated as one team. Stressors on employees does drive up the need for employers to deliver more programs – childcare, coaching, tutoring resources, etc.

Dr. Mark Ginsberg, Provost and Executive Vice President, George Mason University

LTG Noonan asked George Mason University (GMU)’s provost and executive vice president Dr. Ginsberg about what our next generation is like and what they might be thinking. Dr. Ginsberg responded that he is optimistic about this next generation. He described students as engaged, inquisitive, and creative. They want to solve problems. They see today’s problems as being complex and intriguing and requiring new solutions. The challenges of today need a range of perspectives – not a linear perspective. We have many challenges today, but our students value relationships and are ambitious. GMU asks them to make a commitment to be a part of the change of tomorrow. 

changing SCIF policy?

Noonan circled back on possible SCIF policy changes. Sawyer explained that with SCIF accreditation going to Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), in that transfer, we’ll look at the rules and how we accredit. Cross accreditation is needed, and ability to leverage SCIFs as a network should work within the combined constraints of those facilities across the country to better meet the mission requirements. Moving employees moved regardless of government or contractor role will drive new ways of thinking. Our partnerships together will allow us to get to a shared SCIF network. Policies have to change. They need to be simplified, easier to implement, and reciprocal to each other. If one agency does it, it should be good enough for the next agency. 

DIA Training and Career Development During COVID-19

Sawyer explained that the DIA took training from being face to face and brought it outside the classified environment. For example, DIA changed the scenarios for analytics training to take it outside the environment. More students were trained and took the training out to their partners. There was a shared, global experience at the combatant commands. Training has been one of the things that has allowed the DIA to improve the skills of their workforce and capabilities. Virtual seminars have allowed for more participants to be included in discussions in ways they haven’t been able to do before. Telework was already coming, but this pandemic accelerated it.

Good news story ending Lightening Round

Ginsberg: “Positively optimistic about future IC workforce.”

Sawyer: “Future of cleared workforce – already a success story. This crisis has given us an opportunity to improve. Partnerships will improve.”

Bellios: “IC is a people business. People are coming together to face this crisis. We’ll come out of it better and stronger.”

Dotson: “What we have here is an opportunity to change the way we work.”   

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.