Some agencies finding they lack the bandwidth for ‘maximum telework’

One Department of Energy office plans to implement a staggered work schedule to reduce the strain on its systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Getty Images)

Agencies attempting to implement the Office of Management and Budget’s “maximum telework” recommendation during the COVID-19 pandemic are running into physical and logistical hurdles.

OMB advised agencies in the Washington, D.C., area Sunday to make telework available to as many employees as possible while the coronavirus continues to spread. But for some, that’s caused early headaches.

The Department of Energy‘s Office of Environmental Management isn’t “pressing the flesh” during the pandemic and has found the agency’s systems can’t handle all of its employees teleworking simultaneously, said Melody Bell, associate deputy assistant secretary for resource management.

“We are considering giving people flexible work hours, so not everybody is on the system at the same time,” Bell said during an ACT-IAC webinar Tuesday. “Right now we are having a critical challenge with bandwidth and everybody taxing the system at the same time, so we were just talking about having people adjust their hours and that we limit the number of people on the Citrix system at the same time.”


The Energy office held a call Tuesday morning to discuss implementing a staggered work schedule, Bell said, which OMB recommended agencies consider in their COVID-19 operational plans.

Having a telework agreement isn’t enough; agencies need the right equipment, said Pete Tseronis, CEO of consultancy Dots and Bridges.

“And I think we are going to realize, the shareholders, that we are not as mature as a government, maybe as an industry, in having a lot of those capabilities because you may have the best stuff at home on the right computer,” said Tseronis, also a former CTO of the Energy Department. “But if the person you’re trying to talk to doesn’t, it could prove ineffective.”

Change is a constant in these “dramatic times,” and virtual tools, techniques and models must be “nurtured” in the workforce, said Mark Krzysko, principal deputy director of acquisition policy and analytics at the Department of Defense.

Until then, “some things I may have to go into the office for,” Krzysko said. That includes maintaining Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System accounts or removing large files from Microsoft Outlook rather than transferring them.


Managing DOD’s email community has proven “impossibly hard” because of its size, speed of use and everybody tagging everyone else on emails, Krzysko said.

Essye Miller, DOD principal deputy CIO, said Monday that the Pentagon’s networks are under “unprecedented” demand as the federal government goes to maximum telework capacity. Much of that strain is coming from remote workers streaming music and videos, prompting the department to suspend access to YouTube and encouraging everyone to avoid streaming music. On top of that, Miller said, the current teleworking situation is creating “an increase in attack surface for our adversaries.”

Employees in Energy’s Office of Environmental Management rely on email “too much” at the expense of cloud and Sharepoint tools that allow them to work on documents and access information at the same time, Bell said.

“It’s like: What version of the email did you send that information?” she said. “Is that the latest information?”

Microlearning, training outside a classroom, on telework best practices is needed, Bell added.


That’s especially true if employees’ home infrastructure is insufficient, Tseronis said.

“I think it requires program officials, mission officials saying it’s not adequate,” he said. “And not blaming the [chief information officer] but saying, ‘We need more capacity, and we need to be trained on these tools.’”

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