White House Asks Agencies to Stop All Travel That Is Not Mission Critical

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the grounds of the White House Complex

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the grounds of the White House Complex Patrick Semansky/AP

Work trips to areas with community spread of the virus should only be undertaken if they are critical to protecting life and property, OMB says. 

The White House Office of Management and Budget on Saturday asked federal employees to avoid all work travel unless it is mission critical, due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus. This is in addition to international travel restrictions already in place. 

Agency heads will decide what qualifies as “mission critical,” said the memo from acting OMB Director Russell Vought. Criteria as to whether a trip meets the threshold include if it is necessary to protect life and property, it is to inspect equipment that is critical to safety or the continuance or an agency’s operations, or it is essential for national security reasons. 

In making their decisions, agency leaders should also consider guidance from federal and local health officials; whether the employee is within a population at higher risk from complications from coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes; whether the meeting is time-sensitive; and whether the meeting could take place by phone or video conference, the memo stated. 

“Travel by any federal employee to or within areas where there is community spread of COVID-19 should only be undertaken when there is an urgent need, such as to protect life and property,” the memo concluded. 

Federal agencies have already been directed to allow employees to work remotely where possible, especially for those in a high-risk status due to health conditions or their age. As of late last week, agency implementation of telework policies remained uneven, however. 

The Defense Department on Friday said military personnel must not travel beyond the “local area” of their assigned base from March 16-May 11, unless the trip is "mission-essential, for humanitarian reasons, or warranted due to extreme hardship." Defense civilians and their families also cannot leave their areas using government-funded transportation. 

The Friday guidance broadened a Wednesday directive from Defense Secretary Mark Esper instructing troops, Defense civilians and their families not to travel to, from or through countries designated as a Level 3 risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That list of countries is rapidly expanding