White House Directs Agencies to Revise Their Pandemic Plans

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The “paramount concern is the health and safety of all federal employees, on-site contractors, and individuals interacting with the federal workforce,” OMB said. 

The White House directed agencies on Sunday to devise new coronavirus workplace safety plans and emphasized the maximization of telework. 

The Office of Management and Budget issued the guidance to supplement President Biden’s executive order on “protecting the federal workforce and requiring mask wearing,” which is part of his national strategy to combat the pandemic. In less than a week in office, the Biden administration has taken sweeping action to gain control of the pandemic, officially a year old, and alleviate its resulting economic recession while lambasting the Trump administration for not doing enough. 

“To provide ongoing guidance to heads of agencies on the operation of the federal government, the safety of its employees, and the continuity of government functions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the president has established a Safer Federal Workforce Task Force,” which is co-chaired by the Office of Personnel Management director, General Services Administration administrator and COVID-19 response coordinator and has members from several others agencies, wrote Aviva Aron-Dine, OMB executive associate director. “As an initial step, to support the implementation of this executive order, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force and OMB are providing agencies with model safety principles for executive departments and agencies as they build tailored COVID-19 workplace safety plans.” 

These principles include: 

  • Employees teleworking must be given advance notice and guidance before they come back to workplaces and “every effort will be made to maximize the use of remote work during widespread community transmission.”
  • There should be no more than 25% occupancy in federal workplaces during times of significant community transmission, “unless it is physically impossible or poses a threat to critical national security interests.” 
  • Federal employees and contractors working on-site must wear masks at all times. “To the extent funds are available, agencies may purchase masks to provide to staff and visitors, but are not required to provide masks,” said OMB. Agencies should work with GSA and the task force if they need help procuring masks.
  • Agencies should establish coronavirus coordination teams by January 26, which will monitor their agencies’ compliance with COVID-19 protocols and consult with GSA, OPM and OMB, if needed. 
  • Coronavirus coordination teams should work with local health departments’ contact tracing programs. If COVID cases occur within a specific work setting, then the teams must work with local public health officials to determine the next steps. 
  • Agencies must be transparent in their communication with their workplaces, as privacy and confidentiality laws allow. 
  • Federal employees should adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines regarding travel. Official domestic travel should be mission critical only and international travel should be avoided, if possible 
  • Federal employees, contractors and visitors should not enter workplaces if they don’t feel well. They will be asked regularly to do symptom-screening questionnaires.
  • Agencies should take the following other precautions: practice social distancing, use enhanced cleaning methods for high touch/traffic areas, make hand sanitizer widely available, consider modifying air ventilation and filtration, minimize the number of visitors to federal workplaces and try to stagger work schedules. 

OMB said agencies should ensure that these principles are applied to contractors who are working on site. 

The 24 agencies under the “1990 Chief Financial Officers Act” must send their new or revised plans to the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force by January 29. After this, the task force and OMB will work with the agencies to review and finalize their plans. The other agencies don’t need to submit theirs. OMB issued several iterations of guidance during the Trump administration, so some of policies above are already in place. 

As for testing, OMB said that the CDC is working on a testing plan for the federal workplace, so once that is ready, the task force will follow-up with the agencies with more guidance. The memo did not make any mention of vaccines. 

OMB asserted the new memo is a “starting point” for agencies revising their COVID plans, which will need to be modified as conditions change. 

Update: This article has been updated to clarify what was issued during the Trump administration. 

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