As states lift stay-home orders, many federal offices are reopening. Here is a roundup.
Many agencies across government are reopening their doors to employees after deeming it safe as, in some areas of the country, new cases of the novel coronavirus trend downward.
The Trump administration has encouraged agencies to make individual decisions based on local conditions and mission needs. Agencies that have begun recalling employees to their offices have largely done so on a partial or regional basis, opening only some offices to certain groups of workers. Headquarters offices in the Washington area have to date mostly resisted bringing back large numbers of employees.
The Trump administration said in a memorandum issued in April that agencies should work in consultation with local leaders and public health officials to determine when to reopen offices. The recalls would not occur on a single day nor would they be top-down decisions from the White House, an Office of Management and Budget official said last month. The official added those decisions would be driven by agency mission, noting employees facing more difficulties conducting their normal tasks while working remotely would likely be recalled more quickly.
Several agencies have not begun recalling employees back to their offices, but have outlined plans to do so. All states and the District of Columbia have begun lifting stay-home orders and reopening parts of their economies, though more than a dozen states have reported record spikes in new COVID-19 cases in recent days.
Here is a look at some of the agencies that have taken steps to recall employees to their offices:
- Internal Revenue Service: IRS has moved among the most aggressively of any federal agency to bring employees back as it prepares for the revised tax filing deadline of July 15. IRS initially sought volunteers to return to the office and has since offered pay incentives to encourage workers to return. Employees in Utah, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, California, Indiana, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Oregon have returned or are expected to report back by the end of June. The Treasury Department plans to bring some other employees back as it enters its first phase next week.
- State Department: Up to 40% of the workforce will return to their offices during phase one of the department’s “Diplomacy Strong” plan, Bloomberg reported.
- Defense Department: Defense has lifted travel restrictions for personnel in 39 states and several countries around the world. The department has established a five-phase reopening plan for the Pentagon, but has yet to recall employees en masse.
- Environmental Protection Agency: EPA has recalled employees in Atlanta, Seattle and Lenexa, Kansas. The agency will continue to provide telework flexibilities for employees through the second phase of its reopening plan and said any employees at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should continue to telework through that phase. EPA subsequently announced it would start bringing employees back at its offices in Boston and Dallas, only to back off those plans due to an uptick in coronavirus cases in the regions.
- Veterans Affairs Department: Most VA employees serving as frontline health care staff have continued to report to their normal work stations throughout the pandemic. Some workers, however, such as those providing mental health services, have worked from home while offering telehealth to patients. Some VA facilities have told those employees to come back to work. Most Veterans Benefits Administration and headquarters workers have been teleworking.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: FEMA will bring back some employees on June 15 as it too enters the first phase of its reopening plan, CNN reported Tuesday. It will allow for one-quarter of its headquarters employees to return to the office while continuing “maximum telework flexibilities.” FEMA is in the midst of preparing for hurricane and wildfire season.
- Education Department: The department began bringing employees back to the office on Tuesday, according to CNN. An initial group of workers will return to Education’s headquarters and to offices in some regional offices, though employees will not yet face a requirement to return.
- Agriculture Department: USDA has recalled all of its political appointees in the Washington, D.C., area, Federal News Network has reported, but most employees remain at home. The department will bring them back slowly in conjunction with mission needs.
- Office of Personnel Management: OPM has issued a three-phase plan for reopening; during the first and second phases it will continue to encourage employees to telework. In the first phase, it will require individuals to return to OPM workspaces only "if it is necessary to perform essential duties." Through the second phase, it will bring employees into the office in shifts to ensure social distancing remains possible.
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