Spinning up telework presents procurement challenges
- By Mark Rockwell
- Mar 11, 2020
There's good news and bad news for agencies looking to ramp up telework in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to federal contracting experts.
The good news is federal acquisition contracts are set up for quick acquisition of essential telework equipment, such as laptops or tablets, said acquisition experts FCW spoke with.
The bad news could be that online scammers are watching the expanding tele-workforce with great interest.
The emphasis on agency telework is growing, and although most agency employees are already assigned computers, there may be some hardware gaps to fill as workforces move to remote locations.
Federal governmentwide acquisition contracts, such as NASA's Services for Enterprise-Wide Procurement, the General Services Administration's ordering schedule and the National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) are set up to help quickly fill laptops, tablets and other IT commodity orders, they said.
"In general, SEWP is an agile acquisition vehicle that allows for quick turn-around times for quotes and provides points of contacts for all contract holders to facilitate quick communications," Joanne Woytek, SEWP manager told FCW. The GWAC, she said, has not seen any specific increase related to teleworking support, so far.
"For laptops, tablets, printers, agencies have purchase cards," Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, told FCW. "Orders placed on SEWP and federal schedules can get responses within 24 hours," he said, adding that speedier responses could pump up costs.
SEWP posted a warning on its webpage at the beginning of March saying delays in some order could result from stresses on the supply chain.
In an email to FCW on March 11, Woytek again noted that delivery of technology "is limited by the capacity of industry." She said order delivery "is going to be on a case by case basis and greatly dependent on the complexity, configuration and size of an order."
However, the demand for laptop and tablet computers from federal agencies during the next few weeks, probably won't be too steep, said Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.
Agencies, however, should be working diligently to "level set" their computer and network needs for the coming weeks, as well as keep informed on their existing IT contracts and how to leverage GWACs, such as SEWP, to back fill last-minute IT and IT commodity needs.
Even though agencies will probably have the resources to get any necessary computers for new telecommuters, another acquisition expert said they face a sneaky obstacle -- telework-savvy cyber adversaries.
Bad actors are on the lookout for new teleworkers, as those workers open up a vulnerability to protected networks, said Evan Wolff, a partner at Crowell & Moring, who co-chairs the firm's Privacy & Cybersecurity Group and is a member its Government Contracts Group.
Targeted phishing emails and other cyber crime techniques could be a challenge for federal IT managers with increasing numbers of telecommuters, Wolff told FCW in an interview.
Federal IT managers, he said, may not have appropriately secure infrastructure in place to lock down all communications. Additionally, simple things, such as shared living space with non-government employee roommates, could also present issues, if the federal teleworker has a sensitive post, he said.
"We're already seeing a focus on customized phishing" aimed at non-government telecommuters as the coronavirus spreads, said Wolff. That wave of targeted remote worker phishing email is probably coming to new federal telecommuters too.
"Bad actors understand a target's leadership and the types of appropriate email" that could temp them into taking the bait, he said.
Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.
Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.
Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.
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