Agencies find ways to support Congress’ needs remotely

Coronavirus' closures of government facilities or enforcement of social distancing hasn't stopped Congress from conducting business.

Coronavirus’ closures of government facilities or enforcement of social distancing hasn’t stopped Congress from conducting business. And that means supporting agencies such as the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress needed to find ways to keep working as well.

Maria Strong, acting register of copyrights, said her agency’s General Counsel’s Office and the Office of Policy and International Affairs have worked completely remotely during the crisis to maintain that service level to them.

“We continue our litigation, our regulatory work, our outreach to our executive branch colleagues. That continues, if anything, in heightened terms of administering our services. For example, registration and recommendation, we continue to receive claims for those services and so we are able to work remotely in most cases,” Strong said on Federal Monthly Insights — Business Continuity for Government Agencies. “Where we cannot work remotely is due to the fact that we have discontinued our mail services and some of our services do involve paper-based claims. So mail and those documents are being date-stamped and sent off to our off-site facilities and we will make those come back to us in an orderly fashion when that decision is made.”

Copyright applicants do not have to wait longer than normal to register a claim, as most claims and their deposit materials are electronic. Those with electronic claims and physical deposits take a bit more work and Strong said the office has made flexibilities. Someone can, under oath, give a photocopy or a scan of their physical deposit for processing until it can be connected with the actual, physical deposit later.

“We do receive very few physical paper and physical deposits; those will definitely be delayed for processing,” Strong said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “But our registration staff has a lot of work to do on hand, and we continue to process incoming, so people are still welcome to use our website 24/7.”

Meanwhile, LOC Director of communications April Slayton said the majority of the library’s staff are teleworking. Its VPN network has had as many as 4,000 concurrent users to connect employees to the library’s email and other file servers, and about several thousand employees at any given time are working remotely, she said.

“However, it’s not a one size fits all in this case, where we’re not in an emergency that requires only critical operations,” Slayton said. “Our goal with this period was really not just to complete the essential work, but also to allow employees who are doing other really important things that are not considered critical under a continuity of operation plan to have access and availability.”

That means appealing to the general public to help with volunteer transcribing and digitizing.

As for the the Congressional Research Service, most are teleworking and still providing Congress with virtual briefings or regular webinars. CRS also published 153 new written reports during this period and updated another 192 as of mid-April, Slayton said.

“Many employees did have laptops but not all. Since the beginning of March, our IT staff have configured and distributed about 400 new laptops to help staff who haven’t traditionally teleworked, and we’re continuing to increase that number, as we have the availability of additional laptop computers,” she said. “So it’s an ongoing process for employees who didn’t traditionally telework, but we’re settling, making progress to bringing more employees online and able to telework.”

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