Oversight

IG reports delays in COVID notification in GSA facilities

GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock) 

A probe into the Public Buildings Service's (PBS) COVID-19 communication and cleaning procedures has revealed occupant agencies, contractors and visitors were at times not properly notified of positive COVID-19 incidents.

PBS, a division of the General Services Administration, failed to follow its own notification process for positive COVID-19 incidents, along with guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), GSA's Office of Inspector General said. According to the IG report published Aug. 26, that failure may have unknowingly put contractors and other visitors at GSA facilities at risk of contracting the virus responsible for more than 637,000 deaths in the U.S.

"PBS did not always provide contractors with the correct scope of work to conduct detailed cleaning and disinfection services," the report added. "Also, PBS did not implement consistent inspection and quality assurance procedures for COVID-19 custodial services."

The report recommends the PBS commissioner "take steps to maximize awareness of COVID-19 incidents" and issue more timely notifications of all COVID-19 incidents to occupant agencies, contractors and visitors. It also calls on the commissioner to ensure all guidance and inspection procedures "are clear, concise and include appropriate processes" to conduct cleaning measures specific to COVID-19.

The IG's office said it launched the audit after an initial project to monitor GSA's activities surrounding the COVID-19 crisis presented concerns with the agency's response "that could lead to increased exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 in buildings under GSA's jurisdiction, custody, or control."

GSA acknowledged initial limitations "with regard to the confirmation of cleaning and disinfecting" impacted spaces in accordance with federal guidance, but said in a response to the report that the agency "took affirmative steps to resolve this issue as soon as OIG shared its 2020 Alert Memorandum."

The agency said PBS responded to more than 15,000 incidents related to COVID-19 since the first incident within a GSA-owned or leased facility was reported on March 9, 2020, and "continually sought to improve its processes and adapt to changes in circumstances and in our understanding of how COVID-19 spreads, based on the best available science."

"I am confident that PBS has acted appropriately to limit COVID-19 risk in its facilities, and worked continuously to improve its policies and practices," PBS Commissioner Nina Albert said in response to the draft report. "PBS continues to follow and implement guidelines issued by the [CDC] and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to help mitigate COVID-19 risks for building occupants."

COVID-19 incidents have been reported throughout more than 2,200 facilities leased by GSA, in addition to 900 federally owned buildings. The agency said it agreed with the recommendations included in the report and added that it has already taken actions to revise and reissue its cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

About the Author

Chris Riotta is a staff writer at FCW covering government procurement and technology policy. Chris joined FCW after covering U.S. politics for three years at The Independent. He earned his master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as 2021 class president.

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