The plan for the future of the Pentagon’s remote work environment

Airman 1st Class Bernard Coe, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, reviews a technical order as he prepares an aircraft for takeoff while wearing a protective cloth mask April 8, 2020. (Air Force)

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The Department of Defense‘s virtual work environment developed during the pandemic will remain in place until June 2021, when a more permanent solution will replace it to ensure teleworking can remain an option for millions of DOD employees, a top IT official said Wednesday.

The original plan was to transition DOD’s Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) environment to an “enduring” Microsoft-led solution by December, but that timeline has been extended, John Sherman, principal deputy chief information officer of the DOD, said during the Cybercon 2020 event.

The longer-term telework environment will also be based on Microsoft Office 365 cloud-based back-office suite, allowing uniformed personnel, civilians and contractors working with the DOD to host team meetings, collaborate on documents and use chat functions from anywhere. The new environment will also see added security up to DOD impact level 5, allowing for the processing of highly sensitive unclassified information, as opposed to the temporary environment’s level 2, which only allows users to share public, non-sensitive mission information.

By far the federal government’s largest bureaucracy, the DOD was able to work nimbly to acquire more cloud space and internet bandwidth during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to roll out the Commercial Virtual Remote environment in a matter of weeks. CVR now has more than a million users, Sherman said.

“I think this is a gold standard for the government,” he said of CVR.

DOD CIO Dana Deasy has previously said that the network and other new capabilities brought by the shift to telework will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The DOD is also looking for more options for secure teleworking to let employees continue working on sensitive projects remotely. The long-term virtual environment slated for summer could be part of that answer, although Sherman said DOD would still require employees to come into secure facilities for classified work.

CVR has also proven to be critical for deployed personnel. National Guard units activated during the pandemic used the environment to work with large teams in multiple locations to set up field hospitals to alleviate the burden of treating COVID-19 patients.

“CVR at the unclassified level is exactly what they needed to help set up the field hospitals,” Sherman said.

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CIO, Commercial Virtual Remote, Dana Deasy, Department of Defense (DOD), john sherman, Microsoft, remote work, telework
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