At NARA, VHA COVID-19 is Changing What Acquisition Looks Like

Just over two months after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, officials at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) credit the legislation with expediating the acquisition process to ease the telework transition.

At NARA, Deputy CIO Sheena Burrell said that one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic was simultaneously helping employees adjust to telework while understanding that some workers still must be in office to do activities like physically pull records from the shelves.

“The CARES Act really helps us in that way by giving us additional funds for electronic equipment for remote access,” she said at the June 4 Work from Home Digital Summit. “This helped us to buy additional laptops, it helped us to move some of our files that were previously on outdated equipment and move it to a cloud-based solution. It also helps provide for additional security monitoring.”

While the money in the CARES Act helped NARA upgrade the infrastructure necessary to support telework, Burrell offered that meetings with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the General Services Administration (GSA) eased any additional acquisition roadblocks that the agency faced.

“We already had established acquisition for laptops in our hardware, and we actually were able to expand upon that and just say ‘hey we needed additional ones because of the COVID-19,’” Burrell said. “Different acquisitions things have been in process for COVID-19 and to allow us to move things faster. We’re very thankful to GSA for that.”

In general, Burrell said that it usually takes acquisition a “very long time” to go through, but with the CARES Act and the COVID-19 situation, purchases and support has been “able to move pretty quickly.”

At the Veterans Affairs Department, the pandemic forced the agency to do business in a “radically different” way while staying open in an all-hands-on-deck capacity, VHA Chief Human Capital Management Jessica Bonjorni said.

“We were shaking up everything that we ever thought we would normally do and asking the questions that normally we wouldn’t even ask, requesting authorities from OPM that normally we would not have asked, looking at ways that we can write potential legislation to get temporary or ultimately permanent changes to how we do our business,” Bonjorni said of the impact of COVID-19 and the CARES Act.

At VHA, Bonjorni said that there are plans in place to make sure that the progress the agency has made isn’t temporary. She said that the agency is reviewing to see what comes out of the new way of doing business with the plan to keep as many in place as possible.

“There’s really no going back once you’ve demonstrated that you can get people on board,” she said.

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