White House looks to curtail U.S. travel for feds

Photo credit: Jim Lambert/Shutterstock uly 27, 2019. Travelers in long lines at Denver International Airport going thru the Transportation Security Administrations (TSA) security screening areas to get to their flights. 

The White House is recommending that federal employees curtail non-essential domestic travel due to the fast-moving COVID-19 pandemic.

"Only mission-critical travel is recommended at this time," wrote Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a March 14 memo.

Agency heads are left to determine what constitutes mission-critical travel and they are urged to take a few factors into account, including whether travel is needed to protect life and property, to safeguard national security, if the travel is to inspect systems or equipment needed for mission safety or security or if required under a contract or statute or for the purposes of critical training or to maintain grant funding.

Agency leaders are being asked to consider whether the purpose of a business trip can be accomplished virtually, via teleconference or other medium or if it can be safely postponed. In addition, the memo indicates that agency should take into account whether travel is "for the sole purpose of giving a presentation."

Additionally, special care should be taken for travel by individuals with risk factors that make them more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19. Vought also states that, "travel by any federal employee to or within areas where there is community spread of COVID-19 should only be undertaken when there is an urgent need, such as to protect life and property."

State Department travel

Some of the busiest travelers in government are going to be grounded as the U.S. looks to stem the flow of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The mission-critical language in the OMB memo tracks closely with a State Department cable issued curtailing travel for domestic and overseas personnel.

The department, according to an agency spokesperson, "has empowered senior State Department officials to make [mission-critical determinations] on a case-by-case basis."

A spokesperson for State told FCW in an email that the department has "authorized managers to implement the use of telework and other workplace flexibilities as appropriate."

The spokesperson told FCW in an email that sections at State "have already begun rotational and telework schedules" and that "we have made meetings virtual when possible. We continue to work to enhance our IT capabilities to allow eligible employees to telework effectively and encourage social distancing measures be implemented."

The Department of Defense issued guidance March 13 restricting travel for uniformed personnel and the civilian workforce through May 11.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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