White House Calls for 'Maximum Telework Flexibilities' for D.C.-Area Employees

Vice President Mike Pence points to a question as he speaks during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House March 15.

Vice President Mike Pence points to a question as he speaks during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House March 15. Alex Brandon/Shutterstock.com

It also gives agency heads more discretion to offer paid time off for those who cannot telework.

The White House on Sunday asked agencies to tell all employees with existing telework agreements in the Washington area to work remotely and authorized leaders to provide paid leave to those who cannot, in the latest of several updates the Trump administration has provided for federal workers in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Federal agencies should offer “maximum telework flexibilities” to eligible workers, acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought wrote in a new memorandum. He provided a caveat, however, noting that agency heads could exempt otherwise eligible employees from telework “consistent with operational needs.” Vought also encouraged agencies to use existing authorities to expand telework capacity to employees without agreements in place. 

The memo also gave agency heads in the capital region the discretion to offer "weather and safety leave, or the agency's equivalent” for employees who are ineligible to telework but are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. That marked an expansion of previous administration guidance that only authorized the paid time off for employees who were “not able to safely travel to or perform work at an approved location.”

OMB said agencies should develop other plans to ensure the continuity of critical services, including “staggered work schedules and other operational mitigation measures.” 

Vought encouraged agencies to comply with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Sunday night, CDC put out new guidance calling for the prohibition of any public gatherings of more than 50 people. 

Many federal employees are on the front lines of response efforts and will therefore remain among those ineligible for telework. The administration has promised to provide the proper equipment to protect them, though employees at the Transportation Security Administration, National Institutes of Health, Defense Department and U.S. Postal Service have contracted the virus. 

The memo does not apply to the 85% of the federal workforce that works outside the national capital region. Earlier in the weekend, OMB instructed agencies to cease all travel that is not mission-critical.