Remote Mission Support: Navy Reserve Telework Support to Defense Finance and Accounting Services Columbus during COVID-19 Crisis

By Lt. Peter Quinn, Operations Officer, Navy Reserve Defense Finance and Accounting Services Columbus 209

In March, the COVID-19 crisis began to cause drastic changes to the country and the U.S. Navy Reserve. As national and state governments began restricting movement and implementing shelter at home policies, much of the civilian and military workforces were thrust into unplanned changes. Many private business and government organizations were forced to change business models. Navy Reserve leadership and Navy Operational Support Centers were reacting quickly to adapt and create telework capabilities for many Navy Reserve units over the course of several weeks or months. One Navy Reserve unit, Defense Finance and Accounting Services Columbus Unit 209 (DFAS 209) was already implementing a fully integrated telework model, and the COVID-19 crisis had zero impact on their ability to continue mission support. It was “can do” and “business as usual” for this Supply Corps centric unit of seven officers and 13 enlisted personnel.

Two years before the current crisis, a significant paradigm shift had been underway at DFAS 209 to assimilate and leverage telework tools, policies and procedures. Senior Navy Reserve unit and DFAS leadership, began to create a new drilling model to provide key program and project management oversight in support of critical DFAS programs.

DFAS 209 first introduced unit telework in 2018 through a pilot program that provided program support, training documentation, and improved customer communication. Focusing on this program to close out thousands of military contracts was extremely important. The unit proved they could be trusted with remote access to sensitive DFAS programs. They showed proficiency to plan and execute monthly on traditional drill weekends, or any daily period during the month as required. The success of the unit to obtain Department of Defense laptops, remote access software, effective training and certification demonstrated a high level of success. This convinced the civilian leadership to actively seek more DFAS 209 support in several other areas of contributory support. Unit and DFAS leadership expanded telework capability unit wide in order to increase the ability to support critical programs throughout the month, versus the traditional Reserve drill weekends.

Unit leadership developed administrative and operational processes to onboard, equip, and manage 20 personnel assigned to unit program and project managers. A new member reporting to the unit could be telework capable within 90 days, or three drill weekends. Additionally, the unit added flexible drilling and modified its drill schedule to include semi-annual four-day drill periods to gather the entire unit for an opportunity to collaborate directly with DFAS counterparts, receive professional training and participate in eam-building events. The remaining individual inactive duty training and annual training days were assigned to provide direct operational project support.

Today, the unit provides contributory mission support to four DFAS directors in nine major programs. During this challenging COVID-19 period, the unit has been able to sustain the support it normally provides while adapting to “work from home” and virtual drill weekends. Results continued to accrue as Reservists contributed just over 200 hours of support in the three month period of April to June 2020.

It was this effort that prepared DFAS 209 to tackle the challenges of providing stakeholder support during the COVID-19 pandemic. While most Reserve units were all but shut down from providing operational support, DFAS 209 continued to provide critical support showcasing the flexibility and benefits of unit teleworking capabilities.