As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread in the U.S., NASA is tapping commercial software to start an internal contact tracing program.
According to an information collection notice posted Tuesday in the Federal Register, the voluntary program “will be used to determine whether NASA personnel have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus and to track and trace their interactions across the NASA community for identifying possible points of exposure.”
Once the program is stood up, NASA plans to designate a health care-focused employee to act as the NASA Contact Tracer to lead the effort.
When a NASA employee or contractor agrees to sign up for the program, the Contact Tracer will start by going through the privacy considerations so the employee understands their rights and how their personal information will be used, after which the employee “will be asked, orally, to confirm if they have symptoms or not,” by replying “yes” or “no.”
That information—along with the employee’s contact information and the names, phone numbers and email addresses of those they have been in close contact with—will be entered into the new tracking app.
“While participation is voluntary, it is strongly encouraged as failure to provide the requested information may result in potential increased exposure of personnel to the virus,” the notice states.
The “newly developed tracking and tracing digital application” was built on NASA’s Salesforce platform. Salesforce’s workforce management platform has been used by a variety of organizations to start internal contact tracing programs, including some 35 state governments, according to company CEO Marc Benioff.
Interested parties have until October 4 to submit comments.
Specifically, under the Federal Register notice, the agency wants feedback on “whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of NASA, including whether the information collected has practical utility;” “ways to enhance the quality, utility and clarity of the information to be collected;” and “ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on respondents, including automated collection techniques or the use of other forms of information technology.”
“While participation is voluntary, it is strongly encouraged as failure to provide the requested information may result in potential increased exposure of personnel to the virus,” NASA wrote in the notice.
The information collected through NASA’s contact tracing program may also be shared with private or government healthcare providers and other entities with access to all NASA systems of records. By keeping the contact tracing records in a digital format, NASA wrote that it hopes to “ensure higher rate of inclusion and assist in the efficiency of the stages of report processing by human subject matter analysts.”
NASA is estimating that the contact tracing program will cost about $1.9 million per year. The agency is accepting comments on its contact tracing program – such as ways to enhance the quality of its data and ways to minimize the burden of information collection on personnel – through October 4.