The Craziest Work-From-Home Expenses of 2020

From time to time GovEvents will come across information we feel our members and audience would benefit from. Here's something we wanted to share that was originally posted on Accounting Today.

Employees working from home during the coronavirus pandemic claimed some outlandish expenses this year, including pricey exercise bikes, facelifts and private jets.

Emburse, an expense management software company, released a compilation Wednesday of some of the craziest expenses it has seen claimed this year, some of which were actually approved. That included $1,895, which was approved as a contribution for an employee's Peloton Bike under the explanation of "for health and wellness." On the other hand, a $7,600 expense claim for a facelift was submitted under the category of "repairs and maintenance" but was rejected, despite the pressing need to look one's best during a Zoom meeting.

Continue reading

Finding Business Continuity in the Cloud

More than finding cost efficiencies with cloud, government has realized its adoption is critical to business continuity. With mandatory telework as a result of COVID-19, organizations that have been proactive in their move to cloud found themselves able to quickly adapt and continue business as usual in very unusual times. Organizations that did not prioritize cloud found themselves scrambling to give employees access to the technology they needed to do their work.

Luckily, policies including the Cloud Smart mandate helped put more people in the first category than the second. A study completed in March (before pandemic telework began) found that 71% of federal respondents agreed that Cloud Smart was driving cloud adoption. In addition to Cloud Smart, the FedRAMP program also helped drive cloud adoption leading up to and during the pandemic. In 2020 alone FedRAMP added 200 authorized products and are on track to authorize over 60 cloud service offerings. The program has also achieved over 1,850 reuses of cloud products.

Continue reading

The Developing Evolution of Human Resources in Government

Human Resources (HR) in government has always been complex. From very specific hiring criteria to security clearances to battling the stereotypes of government work, it's never been a task for the faint of heart. Then came a global pandemic. HR departments had to quickly pivot to serve a remote workforce and find ways to continue filling positions critical to the government response to COVID-19.

To meet the needs of a remote workforce, HR needed a clear understanding of every job function within the organization to help guide employees on how to adapt their processes to complete that work remotely. It also meant ensuring that employees had the technology they needed to complete their work at home. As new laptops and software were issued, HR and IT had to work together to distribute and track the flow of new technology. As if serving existing employees was not enough, agencies also had to continue recruiting and hiring.

It has not all been easy or smooth, but a Monster.com survey found that 100% of agencies reported they implemented new remote hiring processes. This included virtual onboarding, virtual interviews, electronic signatures, and virtual oath of office.

Beyond the immediate needs of transforming office workers into remote workers, government HR professionals have several other overarching challenges to contend with. Continue reading

Building on Citizen Experience Gains

We've written about the government's ongoing efforts to improve their ratings when it comes to "customer" experience. Across government, agencies have made citizen experience (CX) a focus of their digital strategy. They are working to implement new technologies and processes to make it easier for citizens to get the information they need about government services. The progress agencies were able (or not able) to make came into focus in the way they were able to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The measure of CX success can be looked at in two ways:

  1. How quickly were agencies able to transition to providing their normal level of service while working remotely?
  2. How responsive were agencies to increased pandemic-related citizen interaction?

While there were many speed bumps in getting government functions up and running from a distributed telework model, many agencies found that investments they had been making in telework specifically and digital government, in general, paid huge dividends in their COVID response. For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had completed a full refresh of laptops meaning that all employees had up-to-date hardware and software to start their work from home adventure. Other agencies who had worked to incorporate technology, even as basic as e-signatures, found themselves able to move quicker than agencies still working with manual processes.

But, all the preparation in the world could not prepare for the scope and speed of the pandemic crisis. A study from the Information Technology Innovation Foundation looked at the performance of state unemployment websites and found that 26 state websites failed. The National Association of State CIOs found that about three-quarters of states have launched chatbots to help their agencies answer unemployment insurance or COVID-related questions and take the pressure off both websites and call centers. The Texas Workforce Commission was able to employ a chatbot named Larry to help with volumes that reached 98,000 online unemployment applications in one day. Larry has been able to answer 4.8 million questions for 1.2 million people. Continue reading

When Telework Stopped Being a Remote Possibility

Man Working Using Laptop on Coffee TableAt the beginning of 2020, the idea that the vast majority of the federal workforce would be working from home seemed like a remote (pun intended) reality. However, due to shelter-in-place orders across the U.S. this spring, much of the public sector work was being done from kitchen tables, guest bedrooms, and home offices. This fast pivot to remote work left agencies scrambling to get devices to employees now separated from their desks, develop reliable and secure connections to enterprise systems and applications, and re-engineer decades-old processes to accommodate fully virtual teams. Some examples include:

  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created a workaround to give employees access to systems when they could not use their PIV card. An alternative credential process was created in under a month, enabling DHS to issue credentials that included logical access tokens to give employees and contractors access to DHS networks only. Unlike a PIV card, this credentialing system doesn't have the employee or contractor's photo ID or allow physical access to a DHS building.
  • The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued Temporary Procedures for Personnel Vetting and Appointment of New Employees During Maximum Telework Period Due to Coronavirus COVID-19. These procedures included deferring the fingerprint requirement for background checks and opened the door to PIV card alternatives like the one created by DHS.
  • Continue reading