It seems plenty of people want the entire United States to telework and stay at home until a COVID-19 vaccine is created. To be fair to those people, many jobs that we once thought weren’t telework capable are suddenly finding a way to overcome those barriers. But for government workers, especially those in the Navy, telework doesn’t remain a viable option, and we need to stop lying about its viability.
Let’s start with what should be an obvious point: many military members work with classified information. Information gets classified for a variety of reasons: it keeps ship movements safe, protects how sensitive intelligence is made, or where we’ve made breakthroughs in military technology. We spend a lot of taxpayer money to build systems with advantages over our enemies, and protecting the information from our enemies so we can maintain that advantage is important. Or put another way, we throw away taxpayer dollars when we give up classified information.
To protect this information, we make people work in secure facilities. More sensitive information merits more secure facilities. These facilities don’t include your living room couch. Or your home office. Or the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop. Worse still, we have some mobile technology, but its normally reserved for higher ranking members in the military.
So we’re put in a quandary. Navy leadership at the high level can work from home to some degree. The Sailors doing the work cannot. This inevitably leads to the desire to “talk around” information, or find ways of getting work done that put our information at risk. Remember to keep in mind this information costs money, so putting it at unnecessary risk is the equivalent of throwing money away to our enemies.
A second less obvious point is that the Navy has a lot of equipment that we don’t just lock up and store. Ships require maintenance. Submarine nuclear reactors always have someone at a panel. Without Sailors onboard, these vessels cease to be useful. We can’t drive them into a warehouse, turn on the dehumidifier, shut and lock the door and wait for a vaccine.
So your government, especially your Navy, can’t telework forever. We put information and systems, which are expensive, at risk. Just like the rest of America, we need to get back to work.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.