OMB urges 'maximum telework flexibilities' for DC-area feds

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The Office of Management and Budget is urging agency heads to afford "maximum telework flexibilities" to federal employees in the National Capitol Region amid the fast-moving coronavirus pandemic.

Agencies are also being asked to consider weather or safety leave for federal employees who are not telework eligible and to use "all existing authorities to offer telework to additional employees, to the extent their work could be telework enabled."

Russell T. Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, made the announcement in a memo released in the evening of March 15, hours before a potentially confusing and chaotic work day.

The move was followed by an operating status alert on the Office of Personnel Management website stating that agencies are open with "maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, pursuant to direction from agency heads."

Federal employees are urged to contact their supervisors to confirm telework schedules and obtain more direction from agency leadership. Employees who aren't telework eligible or don't have equipment need to seek more direction from agency heads.

There are about 250,000 federal workers and thousands more on-site contractors in the Washington, D.C., area. They are facing tough choices amid the COVID-19 epidemic because Washington, Maryland and Virginia have all closed schools. Additionally, the Metro transit system has announced it is operating on a limited schedule to support disinfecting rail cars and buses and to extend flexibilities to its own employees who are facing school closures.

The move comes after OMB issued guidance on Saturday restricting federal employee travel on and another memo late last week urging agencies to extend telework to federal employees who are at special risk for complications of COVID-19 infection, including older workers and individuals with health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure.

There is no single, central authority to order telework for federal agencies governmentwide. The Office of Personnel Management is a central repository of information but not a decision-maker when it comes to setting telework policy for individual agencies.

Over the course of the past week, several agencies including the Social Security Administration, the State Department, the Department of Defense and the Department of Education communicated revised or emergency telework policies to employees. Many agencies have engaged in enterprisewide telework tests to confirm that their network resources are sufficient to support telework.

But workers at some agencies contacted by FCW, including the U.S. Post Office, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development have reported ad hoc telework arrangements or little direction on telework.

Current data on telework eligibility is hard to come by. A report covering fiscal year 2017 states that just over one million of about 2.2 million federal employees are telework eligible.Of those, just under 470,000 participated in telework during the period covered by the report -- about 21% of all federal employees.

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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