After months of federal agency closures, and a wide expansion of teleworking and other remote work policies crafted in response to the novel coronavirus, the federal government is planning for a phased re-opening. On April 20, 2020, the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published Memorandum M-20-23 on “Aligning Federal Agency Operations with the National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.” In this Memorandum, OMB provides a framework to be used by federal agencies to develop policies and procedures for re-opening and a return to the federal workplace. Each federal agency must develop its own policies and procedures consistent with the Guidelines for Employers included in the Memorandum, as well as accounting for the agency’s own operational needs and the geographic area in which each agency operates. Like most states that have issued re-opening guidelines, the Memorandum contemplates a gating period in which the agency must see a downward trend in COVID-19 cases before proceeding to a phased re-opening. Agency policies and procedures for a phased re-opening must consider the following criteria:
(a) Geography: Includes state and regional phasing status and guidance. It also may include, school and day-care closures, mass transit availability, parking availability, facility requirements, and the agency’s mission needs.
(b) Telework: Agencies are given flexibility to develop their own telework policies and are encouraged to maximize telework flexibilities for high-risk populations, and special populations identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It may also include new working arrangements, such as alternating schedules for in-office and telework.
(c) Personnel: Agencies must develop procedures to follow if an employee or contractor is symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19. Re-opening policies should consider the needs of vulnerable populations. Policies should also address the employee’s ability to wear face coverings, and whether agencies will provide masks.
(d) Facilities, Service & Operations: Re-opening policies should prioritize public-facing properties and facilities. Facilities that handle classified information should also be prioritized. Policies for facilities must set forth the screening procedure that will be implemented, such as questions to be asked, temperature checks, or other visual inspections. Such policies must also ensure that the agency has adequate hygiene supplies, is following CDC guidelines for cleaning buildings, and implements social distancing procedures to the extent practicable.
(e) Travel Guidelines: Agency policies may reconsider travel limitations currently in place and adapt them as necessary based on mission needs.
These are merely guidelines; therefore, federal contractors will need to familiarize themselves and their employees with the policies and procedures for each of the federal agencies with whom they do business. Agencies are still in the early phases of developing policies and procedures in accordance with the Memorandum, and several agencies have begun to publish their plans, whereas others, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have released solicitations for temperature screening services in anticipation of re-opening.
Re-Opening Guidance Summary:
Department of the Interior
In Phase I, telework will no longer be mandatory, however the agency may continue flexible telework and leave options through the pay period ending May 23, 2020. Priority for telework and leave will be given to employees who self-identify as high risk. Teleworking employees with childcare or dependent care responsibilities affected by COVID-19 have access to up to 20 hours per pay period of excused absence administrative leave.
Department of Veterans Affairs
Contemplates a three-phase approach after localities meet the gating criteria. Dates for each phase are not yet set. Phase 1 will allow the following agencies to resume certain essential and emergency services: Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, National Cemetery Administration, Board of Veterans’ Appeals VA Staff offices. Telework will continue where possible. Phase 2 will expand to allow non-emergent procedures and services. Reopen additional facilities including Fisher Houses, Hoptel Program, VBA regional offices. Telework will continue where appropriate. Up to 50% of Veteran’s Benefit Administration and Board of Veteran’s Appeals will return on a rotational basis, using staggered shift/steams and expanded core hours. Phase 3 will allow visitor access to all Veteran’s Healthcare Administration facilities. Additional non-emergent procedures and services will be expanded as resources permit. Resume in-person Board of Veteran’s Appeals hearings but also allow virtual hearings. VA will, but has not yet, identified polices for screening, testing, and tracing at VA facilities. VA has enhanced cleaning services and closed common areas. It will disseminate additional policies regarding availability of hygiene supplies and face masks. If required, VA will make those face masks available for employees and contractors on site.
Phase 1 contemplates alternating teams with up to 40% of the workforce at one time. Mandatory telework will be lifted, but strongly encouraged. Social distancing will be enforced and groups of larger than 10 will be prohibited. Cloth face coverings should be worn but are not mandated. Employees will be encouraged to take their temperature daily. This can occur at home when state and local stay-at-home orders are lifted or modified, and essential businesses are open. Other indicators are that transportation is available, the facility meets CDC disinfection guidelines, offices allow for social distancing, and there is an availability of food, medicine, and sanitation supplies. Phase 2 contemplates an option for alternating teams with up to 80% of the workforce at one time. Bureaus are encouraged to continue telework where possible. Distancing will continue, with an option to wear face masks, and daily temperature monitoring. This can occur when non-essential business can open, and when schools, day care and elder care are available. Phase 3 contemplates a return to work greater than 80% of workforce. Cautious resumption of normal flow and seating, and socializing may resume in larger groups. Cautious resumption of normal travel patterns may happen when public places opened, large events permitted, and restrictions on domestic travel lifted.
Department of Defense (NCR and Pentagon)
The Pentagon Reservation and DoD offices and facilities in the National Capital Region remain open and operational, but with restricted access and enhanced health protection measures being taken.
Author: Prasanna Haresh Patil