OMB wants telework extended to vulnerable feds amid pandemic

Russell Voight, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, wants federal agencies to let federal employees at greater risk for complications of COVID-19 telework.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
 

The Office of Management and Budget issued a memo on March 12 urging agency heads to expand telework options to as many employees as possible in light of the rapid spread of the COVID19 disease.

Voight urged agencies to give particular consideration to populations whom the Center for Disease Control and Prevention considered "vulnerable," such as people over the age of 60, immuno-compromised people and those with heart and lung conditions, and pregnant women.

"Agencies do not need to require certification by a medical professional, and may accept self-identification by employees that they are in one of these populations," OMB Acting Director Russell Voight said.

"Additionally, agencies are encouraged to consult with local public health officials and the CDC about whether to extend telework flexibilities more broadly to all eligible teleworkers in areas in which either such local officials or the CDC have determined there is community spread," Voight said.

Voight also encouraged agencies to consider extending teleworking to those who wouldn't be eligible in normal circumstances, and to those who would be affected by school closures.

"Agencies are also encouraged to extend telework flexibilities more broadly to accommodate state and local responses to the outbreak, including, but not limited to, school closures. Departments and agencies are further encouraged to approve leave for safety reasons to employees who are at higher risk as identified by the CDC and not telework-eligible."

Telework agreements have been a major point of conflict between unionized federal workers and their departments. As agencies have rushed to respond to the threat of coronavirus, both unions and their supporters in Congress have expressed frustration at a purported lack of flexibility and communication.

"After I heard from constituents who have health issues and need expanded telework I reached out to OPM," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said in a March 13 tweet.

"I thank OMB for taking this important step towards expanding telework in this health crisis, but the federal government needs to do more."

Some agencies are beginning to take steps to address telework.

On March 12, Andrew Saul, commissioner of the Social Security Agency, which recently rolled back telework for employees, sent an all-staff email about COVID-19.

"Based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and local public health authorities, we will be taking steps to provide mitigation for our offices in heavily affected areas in Seattle, WA, New Rochelle, NY, and Santa Clara County, CA, and we are finalizing changes on several topics, including the expanded use of telework to continue service during this difficult time," Saul wrote.

The Environmental Protection Agency is extending unscheduled telework to employees at the region 2 New York City office through March 23, according to an email from Regional Administrator Pete Lopez.

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