This will help the government prepare for the next emergency, says the Professional Services Council.
A large contracting association is calling for the extension and permanent authorization of a contractor relief provision established in the CARES Act.
Section 3610 of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, passed in March 2020, allows federal agencies to use their funds to give contractors sick or paid leave during the pandemic if they are not able to access their worksites or telework. It has already been extended a few times, pleasing industry groups.
The Government Accountability Office released a report last week about the use of Section 3610 by the Defense, Energy and Homeland Security departments and NASA. It “highlights what contractors have shared since Section 3610 was enacted: the program is utilized, valuable, and retains critical personnel as intended,” said David Broome, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council, which represents over 400 companies that contract with the federal government, in a statement on Monday.
Making this authority permanent “would be a prudent step to implement one lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that the government and contractors are prepared for the next one,” or another emergency such as a cyber attack or natural disaster, Broome said.
The four agencies GAO reviewed used Section 3610 for a total of at least $882.8 million from January 31, 2020 to March 31, 2021, but the degree to which each used it varied. As part of the review, GAO interviewed 15 contractors with a variety of sizes, ownerships and structures as well as five industry associations (one of which was PSC).
“Contractor representatives noted that the availability of paid leave reimbursement under Section 3610 reinforced workforce retention by boosting employee morale, allowing employees to maintain health benefits and paychecks during a time of uncertainty, and increasing safety by encouraging possibly sick employees to stay at home,” said GAO. “Contractors noted the effect of Section 3610 reimbursement on the ability of subcontractors—sometimes also small businesses—to remain viable and able to perform.”
In its report GAO recommended the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy share lessons learned from use of the leave provision, and OMB agreed.
Besides calling for the permanent enactment, PSC sent a letter to top House and Senate members on June 15 requesting an extension of the program beyond September 30.
"While the use of this authority may decrease as vaccines change the pandemic landscape, Congress including an extension past September 30th is a prudent step," wrote David Broome, PSC executive vice president for government relations. "Doing so will ensure that agencies have the flexibility to utilize this authority only when it is needed. This extension does not cost any additional appropriations or require further agency action and therefore, the authority will not force costs or disruptions to federal agencies if, as expected, utilization continues to decrease."
Besides PSC, the National Defense Industrial Association and three other groups wrote to the Senate and House Armed Services committees in June asking them to enact a permanent emergency leave provision, similar to Section 3610.
So far, it is not clear if Congress will consider an extension.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an older letter from PSC. It had been updated with the correct and most recent one.