Feds who lie about vaccination status or avoid testing could face discipline

The Biden-Harris administration is looking into what feds could be subject to more stringent vaccination requirements in addition to the mandate for VA clinical staff, said Jeff Zients, COVID-19 response coordinator.

"We will be looking across the federal government in other areas that could require these types of mandates, if you will, for vaccination," Zients said. "We will continue to look across the federal government at other areas where requiring vaccines, everyone be vaccinated, may make sense, particularly in the healthcare setting."
 Doctor giving patient vaccine. Shutterstock ID 1498605842 by Arturs Budkevics

Federal agencies will be in charge setting up systems to test unvaccinated feds and onsite contractors either weekly or twice weekly, as well as covering the cost of testing under a recently announced policy for the federal workforce, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday.

Tests will be paid for with existing agency funds, Psaki said.

“Different agencies are going to be accounting for it different ways, but I certainly think it's going to be covered by existing funds and existing budgets of each agency. But it's not one federal pot,” Psaki told reporters when asked for a cost estimate for this testing.

White House COVID-19 Response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters at an Aug. 2 COVID-19 briefing that more stringent requirements could be coming for more feds.

The timeline for the rollout of the new policies still is not clear. An Office and Management and Budget official speaking on background told FCW that more guidance more guidance will be out from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force soon.

Additionally, the official confirmed reporting in Politico's Pulse newsletter that federal employees who don't comply with the new protocols for vaccination and testing released by the White House last week will be subject to discipline.

The new requirements instruct federal employees to sign an attestation confirming their vaccination status. Anyone who isn’t vaccinated, or doesn’t provide their status, will have to follow protocols for masking and regular testing.

Lying about their status or not following testing requirements can result in discipline for feds, the OMB official said and noted that putting false statements on the form could cause a fed to lose their position.

"It's a federal crime to provide false information to the government in this manner," the official said.

Unions have been pushing to be involved in the policy’s implementation since it was announced.

In a July 29 statement, American Federation of Government Employees national president Everett Kelley said that the union expects that the “the particulars of any changes to working conditions, including those related to COVID-19 vaccines and associated protocols, be properly negotiated with our bargaining units prior to implementation.”

Legal experts have also already raised questions about how the new requirements could complicate labor-management relations by violating existing collective bargaining agreements.

The OMB official didn’t rule out post-implementation bargaining.

"Bargaining on a post-implementation basis may be necessary to protect the health and safety of employees currently required to report to federal workplaces," the official said. "Timely implementation of the model safety principles and CDC guidelines is essential."

However, agencies should communicate with their unions "as soon as possible" and comply with any collective bargaining obligations while implementing their workplace safety plans “consistent with President Biden’s policy to support collective bargaining,” the official said.

Rollout of the new policies, and how unions are involved, could also differ depending on the agency.

"Given varied circumstances, agencies will make determinations regarding how best to meet its collective bargaining obligations,” the official said.

Already, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a vaccination mandate for all Title 38 employees involved in patient care days before the White House rolled out the governmentwide policy. That policy differs from the White House’s in that it mandates vaccines within eight weeks of its announcement.