During the coronavirus outbreak, the Veterans Affairs Department got a greenlight to rehire experts and the Justice Department clarified its stance on working in states with shelter-in-place orders.
Over the weekend, the Trump administration published several memo of additional guidance for federal employees, contractors and agencies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Days after directing agencies and departments to offer “maximum telework flexibilities” for federal employees, the Office of Management and Budget updated its agency guidance regarding millions of federal contractors.
The guidance, from OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert, instructs agencies to do three main things:
- Agencies are urged to work with their contractors, if they haven't already, to evaluate and maximize telework for contractor employees, wherever possible.
- Agencies should be flexible in providing extensions to performance dates if telework or other flexible work solutions, such as virtual work environments, are not possible, or if a contractor is unable to perform in a timely manner due to quarantining, social distancing, or other COVID-19 related interruptions. Agencies should take into consideration whether it is beneficial to keep skilled professionals or key personnel in a mobile-ready state for activities the agency deems critical to national security or other high priorities. Additionally, agencies should also consider whether contracts that possess capabilities for addressing impending requirements such as security, logistics, or other function, may be retooled for pandemic response consistent with the scope of the contract.
- Finally, agencies are encouraged to leverage the special emergency procurement authorities authorized in connection with the President's emergency declaration under section 501(b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5207 (the "Stafford Act"). These flexibilities include increases to the micro-purchase threshold, the simplified acquisition threshold, and the threshold for using simplified procedures for certain commercial items, all of which are designed to reduce friction for contractors, especially small businesses, and the government and enable more rapid response to the many pressing demands agencies face.
The contractor guidance follows calls from lawmakers and trade groups to address one of the largest components of the government’s workforce. The updated guidance also includes a frequently asked questions section addressing more nuanced questions for managers, including how to address contractor or employee exposure to COVID-19.
OMB Issues New Technology Guidance for Agencies
On Sunday, Weichert and OMB issued guidance to agencies regarding how to use technology in response to the COVID-19 national emergency.
The memo directs agencies to “utilize technology to the greatest extent practicable to support mission continuity” and to “use the breadth of available technology capabilities to fulfill service gaps and deliver mission outcomes.”
Like the aforementioned contracting guidance, the tech guidance includes answers to several FAQ regarding everything from ensuring remote IT and cybersecurity measures are met to facilitating productivity in remote environments. The guidance stresses agencies update their public websites “to the greatest extent possible” to ensure the public receives access to government services.
Veterans Affairs to Rehire Subject Matter Experts
The Office of Personnel Management issued the Veterans Affairs Department dual compensation reduction waivers Friday, which allows the agency to rapidly reemploy retired subject matter experts to combat COVID-19. The relaxation of regulations applies specifically to civilian retirees “to meet the needs of this public health emergency,” and allows the chief human capital officer or designee to waive the salary reduction to reemploy a retired federal employee, according to a statement from OPM.
“The VA must respond to patient needs at numerous medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics, cemeteries, community living centers, spinal cord injury units, Veterans Benefits Administration offices, headquarters, and miscellaneous VA program offices nationwide. This delegation will provide the VA with the flexibility needed to accomplish its mission in providing quality medical care to our nation’s veterans,” OPM said in a statement.
DOJ Issues Guidance for U.S. Attorneys Who Are Still Working
On Friday, Attorney General William Barr issued guidance for U.S. attorneys to continue to travel for work even if they live in states with a shelter-in-place or lock-down orders imposed by some states, including New York and California. It instructs U.S. attorneys to “ensure that local law enforcement officials enforcing travel restrictions are aware of the fact that federal employees must be allowed to travel and commute to perform law enforcement and other functions” and shouldn’t be prevented from doing so, even in places under travel restrictions.
The guidance instructs federal employees to notify law enforcement authorities when on official commute or travel, and that federal employees must identify themselves using their personal identity verification cards.
Heather Kuldell contributed to this article.