But securing and managing the information technology that enables work from home is a top challenge during the pandemic, respondents indicated.
Most federal employees believe telework is here to stay, but figuring out how to manage information technology systems will be a top challenge for mass federal telework in the long term, according to a survey.
A Science Applications International Corporation survey of 300 federal employees found more than 80% think the pivot to telework will continue into the future, with 82% indicating they expect to work from home three days per week or more in the future.
Mark Forman, a vice president at SAIC, told Nextgov federal agencies will need to move beyond the “triage” mode that enabled a rapid transition to mass telework in the early days of the pandemic to a more durable model for the long haul.
“Looking forward to some of the challenges around cybersecurity, or maintaining the business processes in this virtual or virtual hybrid on-prem environment, we can see clearly the people move from that triage—what we call the response phase—into that recovery phase as they're getting more orderly practices and tools in place,” Forman said.
Beyond preventing the spread of the coronavirus among employees, 77% of survey respondents said a major challenge they face during the ongoing pandemic is managing IT systems for teleworking. Another 75% said detecting fraud, waste and abuse is a critical problem.
Forman is no stranger to government IT transformations. During the George W. Bush administration in the early 2000s, he served as the first administrator for E-Government and IT at the Office of Management and Budget.
Traditional government teleworking standards relied on technologies like virtual private networks that allowed employees to tunnel into the office network from home, but these methods weren’t necessarily scalable. “And from the CIO’s perspective, a lot of it was controlled because you didn’t have enough money for lots of people simultaneously to be working remote,” Forman said. “And you didn’t have the ability for people to use their own device.”
When the pandemic hit, agencies had to work out the kinks with security and how to give employees who weren’t yet able to participate in bring-your-own-device programs access to the data they need to execute their missions, Forman said.
New technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams came onto the scene just in time. Zoom launched in 2011 and went public in April 2019. Microsoft Teams launched in 2017 as part of Office 365, which is used widely across the federal government.
“I don't think we've seen massive evolution of these products in what was really about a two-month period in the IT industry or in the government IT arena as fast as we saw teleconferencing moving forward,” Forman said.
Forman added moving forward, the focus of tech leaders in the federal workforce will turn to adopting leading practices, such as zero trust architectures, in order to support a virtual environment.
More than 40% of survey respondents indicated they are most interested in investing in secure virtual access and cloud native software-as-a-service solutions to help solve IT challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That's one of the things that you'll see CIOs and [chief information security officers] grappling with is moving from what they had, and scaling up what they had, to these newer leading practices,” Forman said.