The General Services Administration (GSA) transitioned from 50 percent to majority telework during the coronavirus pandemic without any noticeable service disruptions, Deputy CIO Beth Killoran announced at the April 30 ACT-IAC COVID-19 Town Hall.

Even before COVID-19 hit, Killoran said, the agency “had a number of telework policies in place” that allowed for almost 50 percent of its employees to telework on any given day. “We had sufficient equipment, we had sufficient policies in place, that, for the most part, not one employee or our customers noticed that we shifted to … telework,” she announced.

Killoran continued that the only thing GSA had to adjust were its internet policies around telework. Traditionally, employees must provide their own internet access to telework. Recognizing that some employees live in very rural areas, Killoran said that GSA found ways to provide Wi-Fi or other devices to make teleworking possible.

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Agency workers also seemingly already had experience with a variety of collaboration tools because of the agency’s past telework experience. GSA already had a “very robust” virtual private network capability that hosted a “wide variety” of collaboration tools such as instant messaging and video conferencing, Killoran said.

Killoran shared that the agency experience with the collaboration tools underscored the importance of cybersecurity. “What people have to understand is that moving into collaboration tools is that the use of tools needs to be balanced with potential cyber security risks,” she noted.

“Having the right cybersecurity folks in there to be able to assess technology in real time to be able to provide that counsel becomes very critical,” Killoran said.

Despite the pandemic, GSA was also able to move forward with a virtual version of its two-day acquisition conference and onboarding many new employees. Killoran touted the agency’s success with executing the acquisition conference for 1,500 people online and getting over 100 new Federal employees (and even more contractors) set up to begin working with the Federal government virtually.

The agency has even had opportunities to experiment with emerging tech during this transition. According to Killoran, GSA is using robotic processing automation (RPA) to track how COVID-19 spread throughout the United States and help the agency understand how employees are adjusting to telework.

“We really have been trying to push for as complete as 100 percent of telework as possible but knowing there are things such as classified work and things that do require on site,” she said. “We’ve really been trying to use some RPA to do some measurements around that.”

While noting some acquisition and financial limitations of coronavirus response legislation and executive orders, Killoran said that Federal efforts “were all very helpful” in providing “some clear capabilities and funding and some authorities” to switch to mass telework.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.