Connolly: Pandemic response hindered by administration telework rollbacks

cloud-enabled telework 

The Trump administration's response to keep the federal government operational during the COVID-19 pandemic was hindered by early decisions to roll back telework programs, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman of the Government Operations subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee.

Connolly said on April 23 that "sadly this administration tried to roll back" progress accomplished in agency telework made during the Obama years.

First, Connolly said, the Department of Agriculture phased out as successful telework program at the behest of the agency secretary, and other agencies followed suit including the Social Security Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"When this pandemic hit, we were actually less well equipped in telelwork than we had been several years ago," Connolly said.

"Telework is the essence of agency continuity of operation planning. If you need to work remotely for any reason, you have to have a telework program in place." he said during an webinar hosted by MeriTalk. "It's not a matter of whim. It's a structured program; it usually is in place for two or more days a week, it's carefully monitored and there are rules about what you have to do."

Lack of infrastructure and equipment also play a role in putting limits on telework, Connolly said.

"A lot of managers approach IT almost like it's a commodity, something to be ordered, purchased and installed," he said.

States are experiencing this now with their unemployment systems, he noted. Many states haven't invested in systems going back to before the 2008 recession because of a lack of capital resources

"Now, with 26 million Americans filing for unemployment, the unemployment systems are crashing [and] can't handle the volume of people filing for unemployment insurance."

Information technology, Connolly said, is integral to government. "I hope this pandemic maybe further focuses that in our attention and in our minds because unfortunately it's a painful lesson to learn.... I don't know how often we have to learn this lesson—but I hope this time we've learned it in a very clear way," he said.

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