WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department’s IT shop is weighing what telework infrastructure and policies implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic could remain in place when the crisis ends, a top IT official said July 22.

“There’s programs in work now to try and make permanent some of what we authorized going forward,” Peter Ranks, deputy chief information officer for information enterprise, said on a webinar hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. INSA is a trade association dedicated to driving public-private partnerships to advance intelligence and national security priorities.

Ranks also noted that productivity hasn’t suffered since employees began working from home en masse.

In March, during the early days of telework, the Department of Defense rapidly rolled out its Commercial Virtual Remote Environment, a collaboration platform that quickly added 900,000 DoD users. Now, as leaders across government and industry discuss what the future of work looks like after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, the DoD could make permanent several tools and polices that it created to address mass telework.

One capability that department leadership particularly likes is the ability to collaborate across the entirety of the department, regardless of organization, Ranks said. Leaders would also like to maintain the next layer of that capability, allowing employees to collaborate across the department from outside the Pentagon’s network perimeter — a decision that Ranks said “is really going to accelerate the conversation about zero-trust within the department.”

A long-term goal, he added, was to add more personal devices for employees to access unclassified data, he said. He added that providing the IT tools alone wouldn’t be enough to make the changes permanent, saying that department leaders will have to accept the “new normal” of an increasingly remote workforce.

“We need that continued leadership commitment to a new normal that’s going to be a little bit more flexible environment for our workers,” Ranks said.

Remote access to classified information has also been an issue during the pandemic. Last month, Army chief information officer/G-6 Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford said the service is rolling out a platform for remote access to secret information for 2,000 users.

Much like the Army, Ranks said, that access must be “conditioned” to a certain sensitivity level and be dependent on the job of the employee.

It’s a question with which the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is also wrestling. La’Naia Jones, acting chief information officer of the intelligence community, said that for intel agenices, remote access is “not really a cut and dry question.”

“We’re looking at it as, what can we do within that classified data and information, what makes it classified. And are there elements, parts, pieces or processes that we can do on a lower classified domain that can mitigate that?” Jones said.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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