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How the coronavirus forced the Pentagon to improve its IT — and quickly

US Pentagon building. (Dreamstime/TNS)

The COVID-enforced shift to “maximum telework” has forced the Defense Department to update its information technology so that more employees can work remotely — and push critical communications to the front lines faster.

“We are creating a much more robust, enhanced teleworking capability,” Defense Department Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. “What we’ve done is put a multiplier effect into the quantity, types of services, etc. There will be some permanency to what we have here, specifically more on the network side. We will also have created a base of teleworking equipment that we will be able to, in some cases, reuse for other purposes. But yes, there will be an enhanced teleworking capability that will be sustained at the end of COVID-19.”

On March 27, the Pentagon rolled out a Commercial Virtual Remote environment, or CVR — basically, a big cloud-based web service for videoconferencing, collaboration, and the like — in order to help troops, employees, and contractors get work done at home during the pandemic. The CVR now has 900,000 user accounts. Deasy called it the “largest rollout ever implemented in this amount of time.”

And the number of users who can connect securely via virtual private network has exploded in recent weeks:

DoD: on track to reach 200,000.

Air Force: up from 10,000 to 100,000; on track to reach 200,000.

Navy: up 65,000.

Marine Corps: up from 12,000 to 60,000 in three days.

Relatedly, the Navy’s Outlook Web Access service went from 10,000 users to 80,000 within a week and Deasy said that there will be 300,000 very soon. And the Marines went from a remote work capacity of 70,000 to more than 105,000 in “just a couple of weeks.”

The Department has even been able to surge connectivity to new places. For instance, the military’s new field hospital in New Orleans needed a one-gigabyte-per-second internet connection, hard lines to other locations, hardware, etc.

“Requests such as these generally require months of planning, procuring of equipment,” Deasy said. The job was done “in one day.”

It remains to be seen if the Department can actually use its new capabilities to achieve new levels of productivity after the crisis is over, perhaps by limiting the number of in-person meetings. At very least, they will have the tools to do so.


(c) 2020 By National Journal Group, Inc.

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