A survey of employees found that the department was well prepared to move its workforce to full-time telework, although there were some hiccups around paper-based processes.
A watchdog at the Housing and Urban Development Department recently reported that the agency was "generally well prepared" to implement mandatory telework at the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, although some paper-based processes were "severely impacted."
The department inspector general published a report last month examining how the department switched to telework for all employees in March, based on a survey of 37 employees throughout HUD. Although most feedback on the move to telework was positive, the department faced several challenges, mostly related to paper-based processes, and needed to develop workarounds.
"The Federal Housing Administration's ability to receive and process single family forward and home equity conversion mortgage paper case binders from lenders was restricted," the inspector general wrote. "Although lenders electronically submit many FHA loan files to HUD for insurance endorsement, some loans are still submitted in paper form. To address this limitation, FHA accelerated the deployment of its 'FHA Catalyst' system, which expands HUD's capacity to receive loan files electronically."
Additionally, HUD had to shift from on-site monitoring reviews of lenders to off-site reviews of electronic loan files, and on-site housing inspections were suspended. Employees were also unable to access HUD's historical records, process mail, or coordinate signatures and notarizations, which hampered their ability to complete some of their duties.
Officials also ran into network connection issues as the entire HUD workforce moved to telework, particularly when large numbers of employees connected to the department's network via VPN. Among the issues were "intermittent and slow" access to the department's network, unreliable personal printers and scanners, and the availability of government-issued phones.
Despite these challenges, the inspector general said most respondents thought the department was "generally prepared" to implement full-time telework. This was partly due to policies that allowed most employees to work remotely some of the time prior to the pandemic.
"Five years ago, I don't think it would have been possible to pick up and leave without missing a beat," said one survey respondent. "But that is essentially what we did."
Employees also reported that productivity increased despite the aforementioned challenges.
"For example, one respondent noted that office construction work could now be completed more quickly and at reduced cost because work ordinarily performed after-hours or when offices were empty could now be done during normal business hours," the report stated. "Lastly, all 37 survey respondents indicated that IT systems were available to support their work."