Over the past 17 months, federal agencies have sought to maximize telework options in response to the global pandemic, yet this unexpected pivot placed a strain on resources. Many agencies simply didn’t have the bandwidth to accommodate a federal remote work environment for all employees and more often than not, it was costly and created bandwidth issues. Today, as federal agencies are looking at long-term options, hybrid models are evolving.
In a recent interview, Justin Gedney, Senior Systems Engineer at Lyme Technology Solutions, told us that many agencies did not have the infrastructure in place to handle federal remote work on such a large scale.
“There were solutions already in place which a very small percentage of personnel utilized,” he said. “One of the largest issues I personally experienced was the stability and connectivity with the NMCI (Navy-Marine Corps Intranet). The VPN, which allowed users to connect securely through their home networks to the Unclassified NIPR network, was not up for the task of 30 thousand or more users to utilize all at the same time,” he reflected. These issues were even more pressing for classified networks, which Gedney explained were “air-gapped with no outside connectivity,” requiring access to those networks to come directly from a Classified Control Area.
This same issue was discussed during a Federal Executive Forum hosted by Federal News Network that looked at 2021 progress and best practices. There, Freddy Mercado, Deputy Chief Information Security Officer of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), pointed out the struggle of managing a top-secret network in the midst of a pandemic. “Most of the work that we do is on a top-secret network,” he told the audience. “When the pandemic happened, we had to go ahead and go into the unclassified world and establish VPNs, so we could collaborate.” Yet that challenge resulted in DIA considering telework capabilities for the long haul. “We’re actually going to stay with telework capability for the workforce. The pandemic showed us that we need to have something else in order to be able to operate,” Mercado said.
Similar to DIA, other federal agencies are taking the lessons learned from the abrupt shift and looking for longer-term, scalable, and sustainable solutions to remote work.
“With the continued growth of remote work in the federal government, the two most crucial aspects will be security posture and connectivity,” Gedney shared. “With more and more information being accessed from numerous locations, over personal uncontrolled networks, network security, as well as security policies, will be the biggest challenge.”
Gedney offers three best practices for enabling the future of federal remote work:
Manage Controls and Access to Systems: A key first step is to understand who has access to what system or data. Once you understand access, you need to monitor access and identify any suspicious activity. “Breaking down the layers of access and being sure each is secured to old and new threats is key.”
Scale Access Quickly: As we saw last year, it is critical for federal agencies to be able to quickly scale access to systems. Today, as employees return to in-person environments or opt to telework, there needs to be flexibility that can scale up or down as needed. “Being able to scale the access at will is also a key point of interest given the ever-changing environment of what remote work looks like, which can be different day-to-day.”
Identify Partners: Federal agencies do not have to go down this path alone. There are many experts in the industry that have been working with both the public and private sector to make remote work scalable, secure, and accessible. “Working with technology partners across the spectrum to address these new demands can help tailor a solution that will prepare government agencies for the future.”