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Growth in DOD Telework Capability May Outlive Coronavirus Pandemic

April 13, 2020 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

To keep business on track during the fight against coronavirus, the Defense Department has greatly expanded its telework capability with a variety of tools. Once the coronavirus threat has receded, some of those enhancements for telework may continue on in some capacity, DOD's chief information officer said.
 

"We are creating a much more robust enhanced teleworking capability, [and] we've obviously always had one. What we've now done is we've just put a multiplier effect into the quantity, the types of services, the collaboration tools, etc.," Dana Deasy told reporters today at a Pentagon news conference. "So there will be some permanency to what we have here. ... There is going to be an enhanced teleworking capability that will be sustained at the end of COVID-19."

The telework capability that might outlive the pandemic will be related to enhanced network capability, and will also include a larger base of teleworking equipment, Deasy said, but it's not just limited to technology.

A civilian speaks at a lectern as an Air Force general stands beside him at an identical lectern.
CIO Briefing
Dana Deasy, Defense Department chief information officer, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradford J. ''B.J.'' Shwedo, director for command, control, communication and computers and chief information officer for the Joint Staff, conduct a news briefing at the Pentagon on the COVID-19 Telework Readiness Task Force, April 13, 2020.
Photo By: Marvin Lynchard, DOD
VIRIN: 200413-D-FW736-1015Y

"We've also just developed some new tactics and techniques that allow us to ramp up quite quickly," he said, adding that the department had "significant help" from industry partners to support the large numbers of Defense Department employees who are working offsite due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

Air Force Lt. Gen. B.J. Shwedo, the Joint Staff's director for command, control, communications, and computers/cyber and chief information officer, said as many as 4 million DOD military and civilian workers are now teleworking.

The Army, he said, has about 800,000 telework-enabled members on Defense Department networks, and the demand is increasing daily. The Navy, he said, had 100,000 remote workers on its networks before the coronavirus pandemic, and that has more than doubled to 250,000 workers. "Planned improvements in the next two to three weeks will bring the total to 500,000 remote users," Shwedo said.

The Navy's use of Outlook Web Access, he said, was at about 10,000 users before the pandemic, and usage may climb to some 300,000 users by the end of the month. The Marine Corps, he said, expects its OWA users to increase from about 70,000 to more than 105,000.

The Air Force, he added, has increased virtual private network capability from 10,000 to more 100,000 today, with an expectation to go to 200,000 in coming weeks. "They're now using a tool that is going to bring this capability to over 400,000 users," Shwedo said.

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The many telework-enabling tools now available to Department employees are explained at http://public.cyber.mil, Deasy said. One of those, he said, is the "commercial virtual remote" environment that provides collaboration capabilities including video, voice and text.

"CVR was created to support the department during the current large-scale teleworking environment due to the COVID-19 national emergency," he said. "The tool is just one of several tools available to the workforce and provides remote workers with enhanced collaboration capabilities."

The rollout for CVR began March 27, and it already has more than 900,000 activated user accounts, Deasy said.

"At one point last week, we added over 250,000 accounts in a single day," he said. "This is the largest rollout ever implemented in this short amount of time."

A man uses a computer in his home.
Telework
A Defense Department employee teleworks, April 1, 2020.
Photo By: April Gail Pilgrim, Army
VIRIN: 200401-A-QT978-0001

The recently stood-up COVID-19 Telework Readiness Task Force has spearheaded much of the effort to get employees online from home to keep doing their jobs, Deasy said. The task force, he said, focuses on areas such as equipment needs, network capacity, operational readiness, information technology personnel, contracting readiness, supply chain, finance requirements and cybersecurity.

"We meet daily for about two hours to review and address various technical issues and requests as they arise," he said.

Deasy also said efforts during the coronavirus pandemic are not just related to getting employees online for telework. DOD also is helping on the front lines of the coronavirus fight as well.

A female in hospital scrubs puts fabric into a large trash can.
Garment Disposal
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Bridget Rubac, Expeditionary Medical Facility New Orleans Detachment, disposes of outer garments after escorting a patient to a room at the personal housing unit in support of the Defense Department’s COVID-19 response in New Orleans, April 9, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Eric S. Garst
VIRIN: 200409-N-PS473-0058

In New Orleans, he said, the department provided two field hospitals with a one-gigabyte internet connection, [internet protocol] phones, connectivity between locations and switches to connect it all together.

"A request such as this generally requires months of planning, procuring equipment, and, of course, hiring the teams to install," he said. "Due to our strong partnership with industry, the job was completed in just one day."

One effect of increased telework and the coronavirus pandemic has been an increase in "spear phishing" — attempts by malicious actors to compromise target computers.

"I'll tell you that [with] the insight that we're receiving, we're getting better and better at getting their [tactics, techniques and procedures] and finding out where these threat vectors are coming from," Shwedo said.