Pandemic reshapes workforce paradigms at DHS

videoconference (Andrey_Popov/ 

The work-from-home model the pandemic imposed on everyone, including federal IT operations, has agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission rethinking continuity planning models.

"This wasn't an event we specifically prepared for" in planning for continuity of operations, DHS acting CIO Beth Cappello said. "We didn't plan on working in isolation."

Traditional operational continuity planning, Capello said in remarks in a CyberScoop "Security a Remote Workforce" webinar, focuses on moving workers to an alternate site.

As the pandemic response began, Capello said DHS had solid cloud infrastructure and virtual private networks that its components leveraged. However, she said, components used it differently to get their operations up and running in the pandemic.

"It will be interesting to see and examine when this is over," she said.

Big events, she said, always brings more probes by bad actors, particularly phishing emails, said Capello. The pandemic is no different, she said, adding that her IT operations staff worked to get the word out to users on what to look for.

"Long term, we need to open the aperture on continuity planning to think about a circumstance like this with people working remotely for a longer time, as well as what security will look like," she said.

"Will have to spend more than a little time re-engineering business processing," said Capello, such as how to get a person a common access card if they can't come to a physical location to get it. That process, and others like it, have to be re-thought for a calamity such as a pandemic that might go in fits and starts into the future, according to Capello.

The FCC moved quickly to implement Microsoft Teams, in the early days of its move to get its workforce remote capabilities, according to agency CIO Francisco Salguero.

As its workforce moved to remote access, the FCC, like many agencies and companies, realized its telephone and messaging systems designed for a more centralized workforce were swamped.

The agency had virtual desktops, available to employees before the pandemic, but the lockdown highlighted the need to move more quickly to the cloud. The pandemic showed that the FCC needed to make more data-intensive applications, such as its geographic information systems, more easily available to its workforce.

About the Author

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, 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.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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