With coronavirus infections still on the rise in D.C. metropolitan area, and other major cities, it could be months before federal workers are back in the office at normal, pre-coronavirus levels.
The Trump Whitehouse laid out guidelines for reopening government offices and bringing operations back to normal last month, aiming to reduce the number of employees gradually who are teleworking all over the country. But the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management failed to set any timelines or mandates, leaving quite a lot of discretion up to the individual agencies.
“Central guidance to federal agencies is essential to a safe and effective return to workplaces,” said Max Stier, president, and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “Hopefully, federal leaders will also have the discretion to continue remote working situations where it is working well, even if a return to physical locations is possible.”
Subsequently, agencies are well aware that the president and his top officials are eager to demonstrate that the nation is getting back to normal.
“I’m sure it’s on everybody’s mind that they want to make an example of federal workers and the optics of the thing are that we would lead the way to resume work,” one career staffer at the Department of Health and Human Services staffer said. But “doing it without adequate testing in place is just throwing fire on what’s going to be the next wave. It’s not as though the situation has changed.”
If the administration is moving ahead anyway, it could trigger an impasse between the government, its workforce, and the unions that represent them.
“Even though some politicians think it’s time to turn the page and declare (the coronavirus outbreak) over, we know otherwise,” American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said on Wednesday at a town hall with Department of Veteran Affairs employees.
“We know that frontline employees at the VA need congressional action on PPE, hazard pay, telework, administrative leave and new OSHA standards, and new issues are arising every day as this pandemic advances,” he said
Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio touted his hazard pay policy — “Pandemic Premium Pay” — which he’s been pushing to include in the next stimulus package Congress passes. And he called on OSHA to issue stronger standards to protect workers.
“To me, you don’t reopen this economy until you make sure that workers are safe,” Brown said at Wednesday’s town hall.