As COVID-19 spread across the world, life as we knew it changed. Within a matter of weeks, school districts and colleges sent their students home, movie theaters closed, sports leagues canceled games and states issued stay at home orders.
The federal government also reacted, closing some federal office buildings and moving to a 100 percent telework status for all employees except mission essential personnel. For the Department of the Navy (DON), the immediate and unprecedented shift to 100% telework placed an unprecedented strain on the DON’s information technology (IT) networks and capabilities. Throughout the DON, senior leaders quickly executed a plan to improve, expand and upgrade capabilities for the hundreds of thousands of teleworking DON military personnel, civilians and contractors.
The former Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS) is one of the many DON organizations that immediately focused on improving the telework experience without compromising cybersecurity. PEO EIS’s programs worked diligently to expand the DON’s remote access capabilities, whitelist a critical financial application, and assist in the rollout of the Defense Department’s Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) environment. (When maximum telework began in March, PEO EIS led the Navy’s IT response to COVID-19. In May, PEO EIS was disestablished and the its program offices were aligned to two new PEOs – PEO Digital and Enterprise Services (PEO Digital) and PEO Manpower, Logistics and Business Solutions (PEO MLB).)
“As the Department of the Navy’s defense business system and enterprise IT acquisition agent, we were in a unique position to step up as an organization to ensure the continuity of the DON’s day-to-day administrative, business and financial operations during this challenging time,” said Ruth Youngs Lew, program executive officer for Enterprise Information Systems. Youngs Lew is now the program executive officer for Digital and Enterprise Services. “Our teams worked tirelessly to support and enable the teleworking productivity of hundreds of thousands Sailors, Marines, civilians and their industry partners. I’m especially proud of our efforts that enabled the business of defending our country, and in doing so, ensured the health, safety and welfare of our warfighters and their families.”
Expanded Networking Capability
When the federal government shifted to maximum telework, Navy leaders recognized they had to move quickly to expand network capabilities, said Capt. Ben McNeal, Naval Enterprise Networks (NEN) program manager. NEN is the program responsible for acquiring and managing the service contracts for the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) and the Outside the Continental United States (OCONUS) Navy Enterprise Network (ONE-Net). NEN is now part of PEO Digital. “We knew immediately that nearly every Navy enterprise network user, in the U.S. and abroad, would need to work remotely – at every echelon of our Navy.”
Like many other federal agencies, the Navy had to modernize aging network infrastructure almost overnight. NEN utilized an existing coalition of stakeholders and industry partners ready, willing and able to accelerate a subset of their network transformation activities.
Key capacity upgrades included:
- Increased bandwidth to support remote network traffic.
- Scaled up Virtual Private Network (VPN) licenses to allow more users access to network resources from home.
- Added new VPN connection sites to reduce bottlenecks.
- Increased Outlook Web Access (OWA) licenses.
These upgrades provided more than 700,000 Sailors, civilians and contractors with the capability to maintain network connectivity from their homes, ensuring continuity in supporting the DON’s mission.
In the first week, NEN coordinated approval to change a longstanding policy that required VPN authentication within five minutes of connecting an NMCI device to a Wi-Fi network. Removing the Wi-Fi five-minute time out protocol allowed users with NMCI devices to access their emails via OWA without the VPN. This freed up the limited number of VPN licenses for personnel who required NMCI connectivity to complete their work.
To improve response times, the NMCI Service Desk added a new telephone prompt to direct users to the appropriate service desk personnel.
One week after the start of maximum telework, the Navy doubled VPN and OWA capacity across the board to accommodate more than 100,000 simultaneous users. Before COVID-19, the DON averaged 10,000 to 15,000 teleworkers on NMCI or the Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN) during a regular business day.
Today, the Navy is able to support more than 200,000 simultaneous remote users, ensuring continuity of the Navy’s business. To enable that level of telework, NEN quadrupled VPN and OWA capacity by doubling the network bandwidth and adding VPN sites for better access.
NEN led the expansion of the DON’s telework capacity in conjunction with the network stakeholders – DON Chief Information Officer (DON CIO), Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N2N6), U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet (FCC/10F) – the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), and various industry partners.
“Our response was a team effort,” McNeal said. “NEN doesn’t just manage the DON’s network services contracts; we are part of a strong network of DON organizations and companies wholly committed to supporting the Fleet. Together, we have an innate understanding of NMCI and ONE-Net that allows us to quickly pivot, identify and correct the bottlenecks that prevented efficient mass telework.”
Whitelisting Navy ERP
One of the first steps taken by the PEO EIS team was making the Navy Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP)accessible to its 72,000 users from any public-facing commercial internet network, which reduced downtime and frustrations while eliminating potential work stoppages. Ensuring access to Navy ERP, the DON’s financial and timekeeping systems of record that manages nearly 56 percent of the Navy’s total obligation authority, was critical so that users can access its various finance, acquisition, supply, workforce management, and grants management modules.
Since Navy ERP achieved full operational capability in 2013, it has only been accessible from within the NMCI security boundary for cybersecurity reasons. However, during COVID-19 and this period of mass telework, the high demand for remote access to Navy ERP strained the network architecture, making access to Navy ERP sporadic, and at times, inaccessible.
To remedy this, the Navy ERP technical team conducted a full assessment and accounting of resources required to obtain authorization for DISA to “whitelist” Navy ERP. The challenge was to formulate a strategy, with full security rigor, to allow access to targeted Navy ERP websites and features from commercial networks outside NMCI’s security boundary. The risk in this strategy of allowing access to Navy ERP outside of DoD networks was the potential exposure for attacks such as denial of service.
The Navy ERP team reviewed the configuration and security controls necessary to safeguard the system. The team modified Navy ERP’s accreditation documentation and use cases, presenting them to the Navy Authorizing Official and Security Controls Assessor for review. Additionally, the Navy ERP Information Assurance team requested a Web-based Risk Assessment (WRA) for every element of the whitelist submission.
The Navy ERP team worked with the highest levels of Navy leadership and cybersecurity subject matter experts to approve and implement the whitelisting strategy in just four business days. Once approved, the engineering to allow access to Navy ERP outside of NMCI took less than six hours to implement and replicate.
“As the Navy’s official financial and time and attendance programs of record, Navy ERP is a critical system,” said Ed Quick, program manager for the Navy Enterprise Business Solutions (Navy EBS) Program Office that oversees Navy ERP. Navy EBS is now part of PEO MLB. “When the federal government switched to maximum telework, ensuring remote access for all of our users was a high priority. The Navy ERP team worked efficiently to receive the necessary approvals to maintain continued operations for our users.”
Commercial Virtual Remote Environment Support
When the federal government moved to maximum telework, the DoD quickly recognized that the military services were unprepared for the hundreds of thousands of government, military and contractor personnel that immediately required remote access to their respective IT networks, systems and services.
The Defense Department decided to deliver an enterprise-wide collaborative tool that would be rolled out to the entire DoD, impacting more than 3 million users. That tool, which the DoD calls CVR, provides department teleworkers with a productivity and collaboration tool that can be accessed from a personal or work computer, mobile or tablet device at any time from any location. The cornerstone of CVR is Microsoft Teams, a capability that includes chat and meeting (video and audio) functions, online file storage, and Microsoft Office integration with online access to Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
PEO EIS tasked the Navy Commercial Cloud Services (NCCS) Project Office, NEN and the Enterprise Systems and Services (E2S) Program Office’s NAVY 311 team with providing support and resources in rolling out CVR to more than 760,000 Navy users and integrating its use within the Navy’s networking platforms. Across the DoD, 3.4 million CVR accounts are being provisioned.
Deploying a major new collaboration tool on more than 300,000 government-owned devices is a challenge in the best of times. During COVID-19, the task is even more difficult when faced with assisting more than 700,000 teleworking users in adopting a tool that can be used on a variety of government-owned, contractor-owned and personal-owned electronic devices with varying levels of security settings and technological capabilities.
Although the DoD was responsible for creating all of the user accounts, the Navy needed to establish the organizational structure required to support the successful adoption of CVR. Major actions included:
• Developing documentation to communicate the capabilities available in CVR.
• Designating a help desk and establishing a process to accept and resolve user submitted CVR-related questions and issues.
• Creating a CVR Champions Network of expert superusers responsible for assisting end users adoption of CVR.
To educate users about CVR, NCCS created a CAC-accessible resource website (https://cloud.navy.mil/telework) with information and links to CVR training, get-started guides and other resources on the Naval Digital Cloud Marketplace, the Navy’s storefront for all Naval cloud offerings. NCCS, which is now part of PEO Digital, also developed a number of slick sheets, frequently asked questions and additional resource documents.
NCCS worked with command information officers in creating the CVR Champions Network, a group of early adopters responsible for assisting end users in transitioning to CVR. The initial list of 150 champions were given advanced training and hands-on support in becoming experts in utilizing the collaboration tools available in CVR.
During the first three weeks of the CVR rollout, NCCS held daily meetings with the champions to identify problems, work through deployment issues, develop strategies to encourage adoption and discuss best practices in utilizing CVR tools. The feedback received from the champions were instrumental in identifying additional functions that users needed such as adding the ability to create private channels within their Team sites, providing teleconference lines to meeting invites and installing the Teams application on NMCI machines rather than relying on a website interface.
Meetings are now held twice a week. In addition to the meetings, information is posted on the champions Teams site or distributed via email. Today, the Navy has about 350 identified CVR champions and counting. NCCS receives two to three requests each day from users interested in joining the CVR Champion Network.
In addition to directly supporting users in their commands, the champions assist in troubleshooting and responding to the help tickets submitted to E2S’s NAVY 311 team. E2S is now part of PEO MLB.
CVR Help Desk Support
With the entire Navy adopting CVR at the same time, establishing a help desk to handle CVR-related questions and issues was a top priority. NAVY 311, a one-stop entry point that provides Sailors with call center support, was designated as the Navy’s CVR help desk support.
A CVR help email address was created that NAVY 311 is responsible for monitoring. Additionally, NAVY 311 modified its ticket intake system to include a category for CVR-related questions and updated its website for online submission of help tickets. Within days of getting the request, the NAVY 311 team was up and running with access to the email box, an online submission system and a process in place to facilitate resolution of issues.
The NAVY 311 team triages incoming help tickets from the website and email address, filtering them by question type and command. Then the champions take over, reviewing and responding to the CVR usage questions submitted by members of their command as well as any other general questions.
To date, NAVY 311 has received 20,000 CVR-related tickets, the majority of which are for password resets, but the tickets range from issues regarding audio or video issues to setting up a profile photo to how to request a CVR teleconference line, to how to change the color of the application background.
“Even though they knew ticket volume would increase exponentially, the NAVY 311 team stepped up to the challenge of serving as the Navy CVR help desk,” said Les Hubbard, program executive officer for Manpower, Logistics and Business Solutions. “In concert with the CVR Champions Network and Fleet Cyber Command, the NAVY 311 team is working diligently and efficiently to resolve trouble tickets.”
Initially all password reset requests were handled by the Defense Department, but after the DoD started disabling all CVR accounts older than 28 days that had never been logged into, the number of password reset requests skyrocketed and the responsibility was turned over to the Navy. A team comprised of Navy 311, NCCS and FCC personnel now handles all Navy CVR password resets.
The country shut down to limit the spread of COVID-10 and to flatten the curve in support of health care workers, but the DON didn’t have that option. With Sailors and Marines deployed around the globe, the DON had to continue operating in support of the fleet and its warfighting mission.
“Whether it is quickly expanding the network’s bandwidth capacity or supporting the rollout of new remote capabilities, PEO EIS did everything in its power to support the DON’s teleworkers,” Youngs Lew said.
PEO MLB’s Sea Warrior Program Supports Sailors, Marines and their families during COVID-19
By Michelle Ku, PEO Digital and PEO MLB Public Affairs
Data is critical at all times – during wartime, peacetime, and most especially, during a pandemic. Data provides leaders with the information they need to make better decisions to save lives and protect the country.
In development since 2017, the Sea Warrior Program Office’s Authoritative Data Environment (ADE), a single, integrated authoritative data source for active duty and reserve Sailors’ MyNavy HR – formerly known as Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education – achieved initial operating capability on March 27, just in time to support the Navy’s COVID-19 response efforts. This authoritative source allows for the Chief of Naval Personnel to have a dashboard of his personnel’s readiness and the impacts of COVID-19.
By the end of July, ADE will provide the Navy with a Fleet-wide view of the impacts of COVID-19. As Sailors became temporarily unavailable for duty following a positive test or exposure to COVID-19, ADE will facilitate force management and resource planning in locating Sailors with similar skills and training to ensure mission requirements are staffed accordingly.
Sea Warrior Program also updated MyNavy Portal, a web portal that integrates many of the Navy’s human resources IT systems, to include a repository of all official naval messages regarding COVID-19 guidance (https://my.navy.mil/covid-19.html) and a spreadsheet travel tracker
(https://www.mnp.navy.mil/group/don-covid-19-travel-tracker) that lists the locations the Navy has opened for personnel movement and travel and the locations that remain under stop movement orders.
In addition to providing personnel readiness support, the Sea Warrior Program also quickly updated the MyNavy Family mobile application to provide information to support daily life under COVID-19. First released in May 2019, the MyNavy Family app provides Sailors and their families the information and resources they need in navigating the complexities of Navy life.
When the Department of Defense moved to maximum telework due to COVID-19 in mid-March, the Chief of Naval Personnel directed an update to the app to include valuable resources for coping in this new “normal” of maximum telework, sheltering in place and social distancing isolation. In just three days, the Sea Warrior Program designed, tested and released an update that was pushed to the Fleet with additional links in support of the mental and physical health needs of Sailors, their families and retirees. The initial support links included the 24/7 Psychological Health Resource Center (https://www.realwarrior.net) and the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center
Since that initial COVID-19 update, the Sea Warrior Program has continued to update the MyNavy Family app with additional support resources. A COVID-19 Resource section, a Pandemic Resources section, Navy COVID-19 blog information and guidance on “At Home Cooking,” are all new additions to the app. The Sea Warrior Program, in conjunction with the Chief of Naval Personnel and Commander, Navy Installations Command, continues to monitor ways to improve the app with COVID-19 support resources for Navy families. While the majority of the MyNavy Family content is geared to active duty and Reserve Sailors, their families and retirees, the public can also use it as an information tool.
The MyNavy Family app is free and available for download, for both Apple and Android devices, at the Navy App Locker, https://www.applocker.navy.mil.
Please see "Navy Establishes Two New IT Delivery Offices" for more information about PEO Digital and PEO MLB - https://www.doncio.navy.mil/CHIPS/ArticleDetails.aspx?ID=13570
Please see "PEO EIS’ legacy as the DON’s defense business systems and enterprise IT acquisition agent" for more information about the PEO EIS’ accomplishments through the years - https://www.doncio.navy.mil/CHIPS/ArticleDetails.aspx?ID=13571
PEO Digital & Enterprise Services (PEO Digital)
PEO Manpower, Logistics and Business Solutions (PEO MLB)
PEO Digital & Enterprise Services (PEO Digital)
PEO Digital was established in May 2020 following the disestablishment of the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems to realize the vision of digital transformation and to optimize program alignment across the Navy and Marine Corps capability portfolios. The PEO EIS offices relating to networks, enterprise services and digital infrastructure were transitioned to PEO Digital. The program offices relating to manpower, logistics and other business solutions were transitioned to PEO Manpower, Logistics and Business Solutions.
PEO Manpower, Logistics and Business Solutions (PEO MLB)
PEO MLB was established in May 2020 following the disestablishment of the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems to realize the vision of digital transformation and to optimize program alignment across the Navy and Marine Corps capability portfolios. The PEO EIS program offices relating to manpower, logistics and business solutions were transitioned to PEO MLB. The program offices relating to networks, enterprise services and digital infrastructure were transitioned to PEO Digital and Enterprise Services.