Fedweek

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A GAO report on the State Department’s response to the pandemic cites lessons learned that the department gathered for use in a possible future emergency situation, many of which would apply to other agencies, as well.

Following a “a critical operational event” such as the pandemic-related disruptions, the department instructs overseas posts to report on lessons learned, which are then compiled and analyzed, the GAO said. It said that reports from 18 “provided insights on successful operational adjustments and identified gaps.”

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In the former category was that “informal communications were critical for connecting staff,” GAO said.

“Thirteen of the 18 overseas posts reported using informal communication channels. A post reported that informal communication channels, such as weekly virtual town halls, were critical for providing clear, correct information, noting changes, responding to questions, and keeping the lines of communication open. Some of the 13 posts also created group chats in a messaging application to maintain communication within the post community,” it said.

Six of the reports meanwhile cited “telework connectivity issues” as a problem—a concern that was common across the government especially in the early months. “A lesson learned is to use simpler communication technology that require less bandwidth for town halls and other large events connecting hundreds of community members using various devices in multiple locations,” it said.

Similarly, some raised concerns with insufficient equipment, including employees who lacked government-issued smartphones with internet access, “which posed communication challenges” and resulted in some employees missing virtual meetings.

Also commonly reported was a need for future crisis management guidance, training, or planning, the GAO said.

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