The U.S. Coast Guard expanded its telework capabilities to protect employees during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the service branch needs to ensure it is auditing data derived from Coast Guard staff self-reporting telework use and health statuses.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that Coast Guard staff self-report their telework use and health statuses. The Coast Guard audits this data for weekly accuracy, though the service branch can’t confirm that the audits are occurring. Because of this, the service branch Coast “may be using inaccurate data to plan technology investments, determine staff’s mission readiness, and more,” GAO said.

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“GAO found that the Coast Guard lacks control over telework documentation and its personnel data are not reliable,” wrote GAO. “Officials told us that high levels of participation in its telework program may continue following the pandemic. Thus, ensuring that all personnel who telework have valid and current telework agreements in place will provide the Coast Guard with the information needed to make decisions that require telework data, such as for space planning or technology investments.”

The GAO report says the Coast Guard modified its personnel system to allow employees to self-report statuses. GAO analyzed these data from April 2020 through April 2021, and found the data to be unreliable because of missing data and accuracy concerns.

“Without such assurance, the Coast Guard may be relaying on inaccurate and incomplete information when making decisions that rely on these data, such as for assessing its operational readiness,” wrote GAO.

GAO made three recommendations, all of which were concurred with by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Coast Guard.  The recommendations are:

  1. Ensure personnel have valid telework agreements in place;
  2. Ensure these agreements are reviewed at least annually; and
  3. Ensure weekly audits are conducted to verify personnel status.
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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.