DOD asks contractors to maximize telework capabilities

The Pentagon is asking for "maximum telework flexibilities" extended to DOD service members and civilian employees also be made available to contractors when possible.

The Defense Department wants contractors to maximize telework opportunities in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Kim Herrington, the acting director for Defense Pricing and Contracting in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, issued a memo March 20 instructing defense companies to "consider unprecedented flexibilities" during the COVID-19 pandemic and allow workers to do their jobs remotely "without mission degradation."

"We are asking that the same maximum telework flexibilities extended to DOD service members and civilians also be made available to contractors when contract services can be delivered, without mission degradation, while off-site," Herrington wrote.

"This flexibility should be allowed and encouraged, where appropriate, and done so without need for further consideration during this national emergency."

Despite the intentions to support telework, much of DOD's work, including contract work, was deemed critical and required to continue onsite.

Ellen Lord, DOD's head of acquisition, cited the Department of Homeland Security's definition of critical infrastructure in a separate March 20 memo that declared companies and their subcontractors that support the development, production, testing, fielding or sustainment of weapons and software systems as well as those who work in aerospace, as software engineers or IT support, among other national security areas, as essential.

That memo also delineated which functions were not essential, namely landscaping, recreation support and providing office supplies -- many of which cannot be supplied remotely. Lord also made it clear that any essential workforce was "expected to maintain their normal work schedules."

Herrington called the telework move a "reasonable step" so contracting officers and  program managers can create the right environment, and requirements owners can work together while supporting public health efforts.

DOD has been working to issue guidance, such as daily briefings with industry, maximizing telework opportunities for all of its personnel and employing social distancing practices, even when it comes to media briefings, to ensure national security missions continue uninterrupted. But industry organizations have concerns about cash flow and the health of workers, especially those who are required to work in classified or security sensitive locations.

The Intelligence and National Security Alliance directed a letter March 21 to defense acquisition and intelligence agency heads, saying the government must "do all that is possible to bolster the health of government's industry partners in the national security sector, which face dire financial straits as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak" and could face default in some cases.

This article first appeared on FCW, a partner site of Defense Systems. 

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