Senator Pushes Pentagon for Personnel Guidance Amid Pandemic

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Congress continues to seek answers from the executive branch regarding responses to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., continued his pressure campaign on executive branch agencies to release guidance and response plans to the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, this time directing questions to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

In a letter, Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, requested the Pentagon to issue guidance for uniformed, civilian and contractor personnel and to clarify their options for paid leave and telework options during the pandemic.

“An area of particular concern is how administrative leave, weather and safety leave, sick leave, and annual leave apply under a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios, to include for personnel whose normal duty station is a classified facility, whether personnel occupy a mission critical position or not, if they are symptomatic or exposed but not symptomatic, and if they must care for family members who have contracted COVID-19,” said Warner in the letter. “These personnel should not face uncertainty or obstacles in their efforts to preserve our individual or collective health. The Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management issued guidance for agencies to expand telework flexibility, but at present, guidance issued by OMB, OPM, and the (Defense) Department have ambiguity that is creating confusion and anxiety.”

Warner added that any Pentagon guidance “should be consistent and transparent” all defense personnel worldwide.

Warner’s Pentagon request follows a series of Congressional inquiries of executive branch agencies as the coronavirus spread unfolds. Earlier in the week, Warner and a half dozen other Democratic senators requested OMB and OPM to direct federal agencies to post their continuity of operations plans online.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sought the Trump administration’s plans for producing, distributing, and conducting coronavirus testing across the country from the Department of Health and Human Services. That request was preceded by more than 60 representatives urging President Donald Trump to order mandated telework for eligible federal employees and contractors.