Temporary COVID-19 IT Solutions Provide Permanent Options for Federal Agencies – Community News
Covid-19

Temporary COVID-19 IT Solutions Provide Permanent Options for Federal Agencies

The pandemic prompted some agencies to make large-scale changes, such as permanently expanding telecommuting or artificial intelligence initiatives, while others leave behind more subtle remnants of the pandemic.

For example, as the U.S. Supreme Court switched from teleconferencing to in-person hearings in October, it began providing a live audio feed of oral arguments.

“I think both leaders and supervisors have been in a position to say yes to a lot of innovations that they could have said before, ‘Let’s look at that in the coming years,’” said Loren DeJonge Schulman, vice president of research and evaluation at the Partnership for Public Service. “And not only did nothing bad happen, it was hugely successful.”

RELATED: Federal agencies are developing new ways to work together.

Energy department Lab promotes collaboration

The special thing about the NVBL, Buchanan explains, is that it has ‘one front door’, which means that all 17 national laboratories work together. There was an executive committee that met every day and was in regular contact with the five project leaders, who also met daily with their teams. To do that, the labs relied heavily on collaboration tools such as video conferencing, chat, and file-sharing applications.

“National labs had always been hotbeds of collaboration. That’s just part of our DNA,” said Buchanan, who was the deputy director of science and technology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee but works in the Department of Energy Office of Science as a senior technical advisor to the deputy director for science programs.

“But it’s different when you’re working on a phone or working on email than having someone’s face in front of you and brainstorming together in real time,” she says.

Because several organizations were involved in the NVBL, they did not choose one platform for the initiative. “We gave the project leaders a lot of leeway over how they managed it,” Buchanan says.

“Ten years ago, I’m not sure you could have done this,” she adds. “Honestly, I don’t think the whole country would have gotten through this mess without these web-based communication tools.”

After asking other agencies, universities and industry leaders about the causes of their biggest bottlenecks, the labs focused their energies on five missions: finding possible treatments for the virus; addressing shortages of medical facilities; developing and verifying COVID-19 testing methods; predicting the spread of the disease; and studying how the virus moves through buildings and the environment.

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