FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Resilience is part of the Defense Logistics Agency’s DNA, DLA Vice Director Brad Bunn said in an April interview with GovLoop.
The agency has spent years honing crisis-response capabilities while adapting to the military’s changing needs and responding to global natural disasters and humanitarian crises, he said. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, DLA institutionalized telework for office-based employees who make up about two-thirds of the agency’s workforce.
“We were able to move quickly to telework [in March 2020] because we had practiced it for so long,” he said.
While telework can be a great retention incentive because it provides work-life balance, Bunn said it also enables the agency to continue operations during snowstorms or other events that make it dangerous for employees to travel to or work in traditional office settings. And since DLA’s business is so process-oriented, the agency has built an information technology framework that allows employees to perform tasks wherever they are.
“The good news is those processes can be executed in 100 different ways regardless of whether we are 100% virtual or in the office if that IT is operational,” he said.
Employees are trained on how and why DLA processes work so they can still perform tasks manually during network disruptions, he continued, and process standardization allows work to be shared by various staffs if necessary.
“It also ensures we are auditable and accountable, and our customers understand how we do our business,” Bunn added.
Despite the easy transition to telework from cultural and work perspectives, the agency did face initial challenges due to the vast number of employees connecting to DLA networks at once, he continued. DLA Information Operations’ staff made processes more agile and redundant, however, with mobile devices like tablets and cell phones.
“We’re also certainly leveraging everything we can in respect to cloud computing for our network and moving in that direction for our core business systems. Just the nature of how cloud computing works creates a level of resilience and durability,” he said.
IT specialists are working to transition some business processes to app-based technology, as well. While apps will give employees and customers a more Amazon-like experience, it’s critical that those apps be secure, Bunn added.
Blue-collar workers in DLA’s distribution facilities and military industrial centers have been resilient, too, despite pandemic-induced stress and tragedies in their personal lives. Since such mission-essential functions can’t be performed virtually, agency leaders put safety protocols in place and updated them according to guidance by the Defense Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bunn attributed employees’ focus on the mission, which has included providing lifesaving supplies to troops as well as fellow Americans through organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to their collective sense of purpose and belief in being part of something bigger than themselves.
“That’s one area where we have an advantage over the private sector. It’s easy to get really attached and invested in the mission we perform for our nation,” he said. “That’s what drives our people to go above and beyond.”
Employee and organizational resilience are measured through DLA’s Culture/Climate Survey, which is conducted every other year to assess employee attitudes and drive change. The agency’s 2021-2026 Strategic Plan also lists people and culture among critical capabilities considered fundamental to DLA’s success as it strives to meet accelerating global challenges.