The U.S. Coast Guard‘s plans to continue using telework could be derailed by weak data verification of how many of its members are still working remotely, the Government Accountability Office found in a new report.
The maritime service might not be conducting its needed weekly audits of the surveys it collects on who is teleworking, potentially clouding the picture of how many people need tech to support their connectivity outside of Coast Guard offices. Working with inaccurate data could lead to poor planning for future technical requirements and budgeting to support the Coast Guard’s IT, the report found.
“Coast Guard officials could not provide assurance or evidence that weekly audits purposefully designed to verify the accuracy and completeness of these data were being conducted,” the report states. “Without such assurance, the Coast Guard may be relying on inaccurate and incomplete information when making decisions that rely on these data, such as for assessing its operational readiness.”
The Coast Guard, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, also could not confirm how many telework agreements it had signed with employees and guardsmen, further obfuscating the telework picture. The GAO recommended the service remedy the situation by implementing plans to ensure everyone working remotely has a teleworking agreement, auditing telework survey data and put in place additional controls to ensure supervisors review telework agreements at least annually.
“GAO found that the Coast Guard lacks controls over telework documentation and its personnel data are not reliable,” the report stated.
Coast Guard officials want many employees and guardsmen to continue to telework for the foreseeable future, a prospect the GAO warns requires careful analysis of its telework data to ensure it has enough back-end tech to support.
Interviews the GAO conducted also showed that at the beginning of the pandemic, the service lacked bandwidth and laptops to support its staff working from home. Money from the CARES Act provided the Coast Guard with the needed equipment, but how it is being used and in what capacity is not apparent due to the lack of data audits on its telework surveys.
“During the pandemic, the Coast Guard has faced challenges in balancing the need to safeguard its personnel with its responsibility to continue missions and operations,” according to the report.
The Coast Guard has been on a “tech revolution” since 2020 to modernize its aging systems and migrate its tech to the cloud. Commandant Karl Schultz said the service needed to dig itself out of the ’90s to improve connectivity on both its cutters and offices ashore. During that time, the service has added Wi-Fi to some cutters and replaced outdated desktops with “two-in-one tablets.”