Weichert explains employee-facing crisis communications

Margaret Weichert, ddm, Sept. 30, 2019, USG photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class James Lee 

Despite plans to exit government last week, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director of Management Margaret Weichert is staying on to triage federal agency response to the coronavirus at the workforce and management level.

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in response to the fast moving pandemic on March 13.

Weichert said OMB has been leading federal agencies in how to respond to employee questions operating status, telework and taking weather and safety leave.

"I'm working very hard to ensure that we have a smooth set of routines and cadences in place [to respond to agency needs]," Weichert said in a March 19 appearance on Government Matters TV.

"We have a daily call with leading agencies across government to coordinate operational aspects of activities. We meet daily and begin with a situational update and to coordinate on a range of topics such the workplace, procurement, buildings, IT and supply chain [logistics] that are effecting all agencies."

Weichert said that despite near-daily guidance memos from both OMB and the Office of Personnel Management, the best strategy has been to issue broad guidelines and then allow individual agencies to address topics such as allowing employees to telework on an office by office, bureau by bureau basis with their workers.

"It's clear at this point that circumstances on the ground have varied over time and across jurisdictions."

According to Weichert, issuing broad decrees encouraging agencies to adopt procedures such as "maximal telework capabilities" has led to a decrease in face-to-face interactions among agencies' workforce personnel, even for those who did not have such arrangements previously.

"In the last 48 hours, a huge amount of communications have gone out from every [Chief Financial Officers Act] agency and small agency. They're [all] increasing telework dramatically not only for those already enabled [to telework' but [adopting] mechanisms for individuals even if they weren't previously eligible [to telework]."

The Department of Labor has reportedly cut down on such interactions by 90 percent.

Other agencies, like the Small Business Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, have banded together to increase capacity at call centers and ensure businesses can apply for emergency relief funding.

Another strategy has been ensuring that all workers understand they are a vital and mission-critical part of the federal government's response to the coronavirus, Weichert added.

"You might not think an IT worker is on the frontlines of the response, but if that IT worker is helping others do telework, or coming into the office to ensure that everyone else can work remotely, that IT worker's work is mission-critical. You can't just look at someone's job [title] and decide if it's critical or not."

Workers who are not deemed mission critical but unable to work remotely are eligible for weather and safety leave in order to allow for best practices such as social distancing.

Despite OPM Director Dale Cabaniss's abrupt resignation on March 17, Weichert said the executive branch was well suited to continue leading agencies' response to the COVID-19 disease.

"I am confident that [Acting OPM Director] Michael Rigas has mission front and center in his mind."

About the Author

Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.


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