Guidance for Support of USGS Employees and Contractors  using Government Computers at Private Residences and/or  Privately Owned Computers to Perform Government Duties


In Reply Refer To: 
Office of Information 
Mail Stop 440 
Sunset Date:  January 2008 

January 3, 2003



WATER RESOURCES DISCIPLINE POLICY MEMORANDUM NO. 2003.03 

Subject:  Guidance for Support of USGS Employees and Contractors 
          using Government Computers at Private Residences and/or 
          Privately Owned Computers to Perform Government Duties

 
The purpose of this memorandum is to provide guidance to cost-center 
managers and computer support staff who support USGS employees and 
contractors that use (1) Government computers at private residences and/or 
(2) privately owned computers to perform Government duties.  For purposes 
of this memorandum, "privately owned computer" is defined as a computer 
that is not owned by USGS.  The terms "home computer" and "home" are used 
interchangeably with "privately owned computer" and "private residence," 
respectively.  In addition, it is important to understand that all 
"appropriate use" policies of the USGS and Department of the Interior 
apply to all Government computers at all times, regardless of where these 
computers are used. 

The subject issue has been driven by factors including the proliferation 
of home computers and the growing capabilities of the "home computer 
environment;" the desire of employees to perform work-related tasks during 
evenings and weekends; the granting of Flexiplace privileges to employees; 
and an increased use of mobile computing.  Employees who use Government 
computers at home or who use their privately owned computers to perform 
Government duties often require assistance with computer configurations, 
telecommunications, and a wide range of matters that constitute "computer 
support" needs.  Although hardware and software providers, Internet 
service providers, and local computer service providers are suitable 
sources for most home computer support needs, USGS employees often call 
upon USGS computer support staff for assistance.  The role and 
responsibilities of employees/contractors who perform Government duties at 
"home" and of USGS computer support staff in these situations is often 
completely undefined.  The issue is significant for reasons including the 
possible lack of adequate and consistent support of home users performing 
Government duties, the potential safety of USGS computer support staff 
visiting private homes, and the probable over-commitment of computer 
support staff, if roles and responsibilities are not clear. 
The issue is complicated by interdependencies between hardware, software, 
configuration settings, and telecommunication settings that can turn even 
the simplest requests for home support into a complex series of problems 
and actions.  Conversely, security vulnerabilities of the home computer 
can present unacceptable vulnerabilities to Government computers in the 
office.  The Information Technology Advisory Committee (ITAC) has reviewed 
the procedures followed by various districts and has developed the 
following guidance: 

It is important for cost-center management to discuss the issue with 
computer support staff and to decide upon a reasonable definition of what 
to support—and what not to support—when it comes to use of Government 
computers at private residences, as well as the use of privately owned 
computers to perform Government duties.  The following factors should be 
considered in the decisionmaking process: 

1.        USGS Flexiplace policy regarding computers is available on-line, 
and discusses responsibilities of the employee's supervisor and of the 
employee.  In addition to these requirements, it is acceptable to expect 
the employee to apply vendor-recommended security patches to the operating 
system and applications. 

2.        USGS Flexiplace policy regarding access to Privacy Act, 
sensitive, proprietary, or classified data is available on-line, and 
discusses responsibilities of the employee's supervisor and of the 
employee. 
 
3.        Privately owned computers accessing Government computers through 
the USGS VPN Service must be protected by at least a software firewall.  
USGS license agreements are in place to provide antivirus and firewall 
software to home computers at no additional cost. USGS policies and 
requirements are defined at the USGS VPN Web site, 
http://online.wr.usgs.gov/remoteaccess/vpn/ 

4.        It is important for employees to understand that any work 
performed on a privately owned computer on behalf of the Government is 
property of the Government—including Government records stored on the 
privately owned computer.  If a privately owned computer is used to 
perform Government duties, if software licensed to the Government is 
installed on a privately owned computer, or if the Government pays for any 
portion of the telecommunications service used to connect a privately 
owned computer to Government computers, then the Government has the right 
to perform security scans on the privately owned computer and to inspect 
the privately owned computer.  In addition, the privately owned computer 
could be subpoenaed or subject to court ordered action.   

5.        It is possible that computer support staff may encounter illegal 
software, storage of pornography, or evidence of criminal activity on a 
privately owned computer.  According to Department of the Interior and 
USGS Ethics personnel, personal property—even if used for Government 
work—is under no Government workplace regulations; private use of private 
property is the owner's right of choice, and is not subject to Federal 
workplace regulations.  Likewise, there are no requirements for a Federal 
employee to report such activities; however, as a citizen, a Federal 
employee may certainly choose to report illegal activity to the 
appropriate authorities.  Encountering such material places the computer 
support person in a very awkward position, particularly when working on a 
home computer used by a number of family members.  Before working on the 
home computer, the computer support staff should discuss this issue with 
the home computer owner and agree on what should be done if such material 
is encountered. 

6.        It is also possible that computer support staff may accidentally 
damage a privately owned computer when attempting to configure the 
computer for Government work.  In this scenario, liability might be at 
question and should be addressed by management upfront.  The Flexiplace 
guidelines indicate "any repair or maintenance costs for employee-owned 
equipment, are strictly the responsibility of the employee".  Inversely, 
computer support staff may properly configure a privately owned computer 
for Government work, and later find that the computer was subsequently 
mis-configured by the actions of a family member.  If repeated problems 
occur with a privately owned computer requiring attention by USGS computer 
support staff, the employee may be provided a Government computer to be 
used exclusively for Government duties and one that has the appropriate 
security and configuration measures in place. 

7.        Cost-center management, cost-center supervisors, and the 
computer site administrator should agree, up-front, to the constraints of 
support to be provided: 

  a.  Define which individuals are to receive this support service. 

  b.  Define what privately owned hardware and software will be 
supported, if any.  Define the locations at which the support will 
be provided.  Approaches presently or potentially used by 
districts to provide computer support services for computers used in 
private residences are: 

      (1)  Government computers used at private residences will 
be supported only when brought into the office. 
      (2)  Government computers used at private residences will 
be supported when brought into the office and by making house calls. 
      (3)  Government and privately owned computers used at 
private residences will be supported only when brought into the office. 
      (4)  Government and privately owned computers used at 
private residences will be supported when brought into the office and 
by making house calls. 

Other support options include providing computer support to the employee 
at home over the telephone or by remote connection. 

Although it is possible to remotely administer a privately owned computer, 
performance and security measures must be considered. With dial-up 
connectivity slow bandwidth could potentially tie up the employees home 
phone-line for hours, while updates take place. With always-on connections 
such as DSL or cable modem care (i.e. firewall) should be taken to only 
allow the remote administrator to connect. Only remote administration 
software that provides encryption should be used, although, it usually has 
a higher price tag. 

The approach recommended by ITAC and endorsed by the Office of Information 
is:  USGS computer support staff should configure the computer for remote 
access with all patches and security fixes installed and then maintain 
updates to that computer while it is off site.  If problems occur with the 
computer that cannot be resolved remotely, the employee should take the 
system (usually just the CPU) to USGS computer support staff for 
servicing. 


Sample District Policy documents are available at:   

Recommended Policy for Dial-up (PPP or Point to Point Protocol) 
Connections 
http://wwwnwis.er.usgs.gov/cpac/minutes/021001PolicyOutlineforPPP.pdf  

Policy and Procedures for VPN Service 
http://wwwnwis.er.usgs.gov/cpac/minutes/021001VPNpolicy_procedures.pdf  


                                        /signed/ 

                                        Katherine Lins 
                                        Acting Chief, Office of 
Information 

Distribution:   District Chiefs 
                System Administrators 

Copy To:        WRD Senior Staff 
                Regional Hydrologists 
                Regional Computer Specialists 
                WRD Information Technology Advisory Committee 

This memorandum does not supersede any previous WRD memorandum. 


*********************************************
Katherine Lins
Acting Chief, Office of Information, WRD
U.S. Geological Survey
440 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
703-648-5014

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