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IG says DOD should update emergency response plans to accommodate telework

The need -- and appetite -- for telework isn't going away even as the Defense Department workforce goes back to the office as COVID vaccination becomes more available. To accommodate demand, DOD needs to revamp its official pandemic response plans, according to a new inspector general report.

The DOD's IG evaluated personnel access to communications and IT systems during the early days and months of the coronavirus pandemic last year in a report released April 1.

After surveying nearly 55,000 DOD workers, the IG found that teleworkers reported issues with spotty network connectivity to DOD component networks, slow network speeds and software malfunctions as the department pivoted to maximum telework in March 2020.

Some teleworkers (about 14%) struggled to get necessary government-furnished equipment, such as printers, Wi-Fi hotspots or the tools needed for off-site classified work. Those complaints dropped considerably, nearly by half, months later when the IG surveyed the workforce in August.

The inspector general recommended DOD's assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security revamp DOD's pandemic implementation plan, mandated by National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan of 2006 to account for telework by essential and non-essential personnel.

Each component should also update their respective plans "to include revised assumptions regarding telework for personnel and the resources required to support the teleworking workforce," in addition to DOD's Implementation Plan for Pandemic Influenza aligning with its telework policy, the report stated.

To reinforce those plans, the IG also recommended the undersecretaries of defense for policy and personnel and readiness create oversight procedures for management to ensure DOD components can "support Government-wide mandated telework, including the results of tests of network and communications systems and telework exercises with personnel," the document stated.

The report comes as DOD has already begun to embrace flexible work solutions, including personnel bringing their own approved devices, securing network activity and moving to a permanent replacement to the Commercial Virtual Remote capability that allows DOD workers to access a Microsoft Teams environment on personal devices. The Air Force has also started looking to increase connectivity from bases to expanding telework options.

However, DOD may need to re-evaluate its standard telework policies since there's clear preference to have it as an everyday option beyond emergencies.

The IG found that 68% of survey respondents wanted to regularly telework in the future, with about half of all respondents appreciating not having a commute, better work life balance and more flexible schedules. Nearly 90% of teleworkers expressed maintaining or improving productivity compared to being in the office.

Overall, nearly 88% of respondents to the telework survey worked remotely at least part time, with about 12% working on site because they weren't eligible for telework or their work couldn't be done remotely.

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