Workforce

Sen. Peters: Agencies should publicly share reopening plans

 

A key senator has now joined his House colleagues in calling upon agencies to release details of their plans for reopening and sending employees back to the office.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich), the ranking member for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent letters to 24 agencies on July 14 asking them to release details of any contingency plans they had for ensuring employees’ safety after health concerns due to COVID-19 forced large numbers of government employees to work remotely.

“Agencies are given broad discretion to make reopening decisions based on their specific needs and circumstances,” Peters wrote in his letter to Social Security Administrator Andrew Saul. “While I agree that such flexibility is necessary, transparency is equally important to ensure that agencies are reopening in accordance with the best public health guidance.”

Peters asked agencies to share details such as when they expected employees to return to their duty stations, whether leave and remote work capabilities would still be available then, and if the agencies had shared their reopening plans with guidance-issuing and health and safety agencies such as the Office of Personnel Management and Center for Disease Control.

He asked for answers to his questions by July 24.

House lawmakers have similarly sought information, and asked agency watchdog officials to step in and oversee their departments’ reopening processes.

However, while the White House released a plan for “Opening America Up Again” in April, large swaths of the federal workforce still remain on a telework posture three months later.

Federal unions like the American Federation of Government Employees have seized the opportunity to negotiate a safe return for their members during bargaining sessions, particularly at the Environmental Protection Agency, where it represents 8,000 workers.

On July 1, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General said it would review the agency’s reopening plans for its Washington, D.C., headquarters and several regional and unit-specific offices -- a development that AFGE National President Everett Kelley said he “welcomed.”

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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