White House tells agencies to use technology to the ‘greatest extent practicable’ during coronavirus

Margaret Weichert speaks June 5, 2019, at FedTalks in Washington, D.C. (FedScoop)


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The White House issued a memo Sunday urging agencies to maximize the use of technology during the coronavirus pandemic to best continue normal operations.

The guidance from the Office of Management and Budget calls on agencies to update their .gov websites and virtual private networks, revisit identity and access management policies, and lean on collaboration and electronic signature platforms to keep the workforce connected and productive.

“By aggressively embracing technology to support business processes, the Federal Government is better positioned to maintain the safety and well-being of the Federal workforce and the American public while supporting the continued delivery of vital mission services,” states the memo, signed by Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert. “In response to the national emergency for COVID-19, agencies are directed to use the breadth of available technology capabilities to fulfill service gaps and deliver mission outcomes.”

OMB’s guidance comes as the federal government has moved to a state of “maximum teleworking” during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Some agencies have experienced strain on their networks and ambiguity with how to deal with contractors. On Friday, OMB also urged contracting officers to extend teleworking to private-sector contractors.

For agencies to continue interfacing with citizens, OMB urged agencies to provide updated information through their website and conduct needed interactions over the phone. For forms that need to be signed, OMB urged agencies to use e-signatures to “the fullest extent practicable.” Weichert herself signed the memo digitally.

To ensure continued access for employees, agencies should re-authenticate user accounts remotely, the memo says. For some agencies, users need to login to networks from their offices for their accounts to remain active. Avoiding entering offices and keeping government face-to-face interactions to a minimum remains the priority, the memo states.

The memo also addresses the cybersecurity risks of moving work online. While it urges agencies to remain vigilant, it said agencies should take “risk-based decisions as appropriate” to meet the needs of continuing operations. The memo tells agencies to update VPNs, remind employees not to forward government material to non-government platforms and provide guidance on protecting information security.

Contractors should telework too

OMB issued a separate memo Friday urging contracting officers to extend teleworking opportunities to government contractors. The memo comes after contractors were left in limbo over whether they were still required to report to government buildings or could access their work remotely.

The memo, also signed by Weichert, tells agencies “to work with their contractors, if they haven’t already, to evaluate and maximize telework for contractor employees, wherever possible.”

The memo also asks the government to be flexible on deadlines that could be missed due to contractors that fall ill or are unable to telework but must remain in self-isolation.

“Equally important, agencies should be flexible in providing extensions to performance dates if telework or other flexible work solutions, such as virtual work environments, are not possible, or if a contractor is unable to perform in a timely manner due to quarantining, social distancing, or other COVID-19 related interruptions,” Weichert wrote in the memo.

Contracts that pertain to national security and other critical duties should have mobile-ready personnel to ensure the duties are carried out. Also, agencies should consider “retooling” contracts that deal with logistics and security to meet pandemic response tasks, the memo states.

Contracting officers have new powers with the president’s declaration of a national state of emergency, such as being able to quickly buy larger quantities of goods and services known as “micro-purchases.” Other powers granted to agencies with the president’s triggering of the Defense Production Act include rated orders, which can compel companies to make critical supplies deemed essential for the nation’s security and safety.

“(T)he acquisition workforce should feel fully empowered to use the acquisition flexibilities, as needed, consistent with good business judgment in response to this national emergency,” Weichert writes in the memo.

And instead of holding industry day meetings or conducting face-to-face meetings, “agencies should consider virtual activities, such as online industry conferences, video proposals, and other innovative steps in planning their acquisitions,” the memo goes on to say.

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Acquisition, Collaboration tools, coronavirus, COVID-19, Margaret Weichert, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), telework