Winter storms may have idled much of the Washington-based federal workforce, but not at the Defense Information Systems Agency, which manages the Defense Department's expansive telecommunications network.
Working remotely is commonplace at DISA, where most employees are outfitted with agency-issued laptops with secure linkups and a suite of collaboration software — such as videoconferencing — to enable teleworking.
So, despite impassable roads and a government shutdown, DISA is "pretty much business as usual," said John Garing, the agency's strategic planning and information director, interviewed from his home in northern Virginia. "It's our culture to be always on — that means us, not just our networks."
Over the last three years, the agency equipped most headquarters staff with laptops that can securely access DISA's network and myriad collaboration tools. That has allowed approximately 45 percent of DISA's headquarters staff to telework on a normal day, "so in circumstances like this, it's not a big deal," Garing said. Rather than a challenge, teleworking en masse is an opportunity to test continuity of operations plans, he said.
So far, DISA employees have been as productive and effective as they would have been if they were all in the office, Garing said. The agency had a similarly positive teleworking experience during the presidential inauguration last year, he said.
"The fact we have an ingrained teleworking policy does make a difference," Garing said. "It makes it easier for us to adapt and continue to operate."
DISA's networks also continued to operate smoothly despite the snow, he said. Not only are the networks run deep underground to prevent weather-related disruptions, but they're also geographically dispersed and redundant to prevent outages in other circumstances, he said. The dispersed management means that the networks are not dependent on DISA headquarters to run, and any disruption can be quickly resolved, Garing said.
"After 9/11, we've been pretty careful with what we've done," Garing said. "It's always on because it's just too important."