Extended Time at Home Expands Security Concerns
The federal workforce has experienced emergencies in the past — workers have been sent home for floods, snowstorms, subway closures and official government shutdowns — but rarely simultaneously and across the nation.
Only 15 percent of the 2.1 million employees in the federal workforce are based in Washington, D.C. Some are needed in the field, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical personnel and Transportation Security Agency airport screeners, and cannot work from home.
“The whole world around us is different now,” says National Science Foundation CIO Dorothy Aronson, whose agency also expanded to 100 percent telework as a result of the pandemic. “The biggest difference between COVID-19 and other emergencies has been the universal impact and the extended time frame over which this emergency has occurred.”
NSF already relied on a virtual private network for its remote employees, but Aronson discovered that the way the agency used the VPN had to change. “People were acting as they would on a normal workday, logging in to the VPN and staying connected all day long. That methodology is not productive when the whole agency is teleworking.”
To ease the load on the VPN, NSF shut down access to some capabilities. For instance, employees could no longer watch training videos on YouTube via the agency network; they would have to use their home network instead.
“The IT organization is continuously sending our community tips and tricks and best practices through email,” Aronson says. “We are getting a lot of help understanding how best to use our equipment and work safely from home.”