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Federal Agencies Remain Open in DC, OMB Urges ‘Maximum Telework Flexibilities’

March 16, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The Office of Management and Budget on Sunday asked federal agencies in and around the nation’s capitol to offer telework to all eligible employees, the latest in the government’s evolving steps to deal with the coronavirus.

In a memo sent to all agency and department heads Sunday night, acting OMB Director Russell Vought said, “We encourage agencies to use all existing authorities to offer telework to additional employees, to the extent their work could be telework enabled.”

 “If employees are not eligible for telework, agency heads have the discretion to offer weather and safety leave, or the agency’s equivalent, including for employees who may not have been considered ‘at higher risk,’” he said.

Although Vought’s memo was only advisory in nature, and not a directive, it triggered an accompanying operating status change from the Office of Personnel Management.

The government’s operating status in Washington and the surrounding area went from “green” to “yellow,” indicating that federal offices were open but with “maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, pursuant to direction from agency heads.”

“Please contact your supervisor to confirm the telework schedule and to receive further direction from your agency head. If you are not telework eligible or do not have access to telework equipment, please contact your supervisor to discuss next steps,” the office says.

OMB’s Sunday night memo comes on the heels of separate guidance the agency issued Thursday, which instructed all departments to use telework for federal employees at “higher risk” for the coronavirus.

These include older workers and those with underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease or compromised immune systems.

Though it suggests a heightened level of concern, Vought’s memo nevertheless still leaves telework up to each agency’s discretion, “consistent with operational needs of the departments and agencies as determined by their heads.”

Also on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to lawmakers in the chamber, reminding them that the health and safety of congressional staff is essential to fulfilling their mission to serve their constituents.

“In bipartisan consultation with the Attending Physician and the Sergeant at Arms, and out of an abundance of caution, I am writing to encourage you to take steps to promote social distancing within your Washington, D.C. office as we engage in the District Work Period,” Pelosi said.  “This may entail more than half of your Washington staff teleworking from home.”  

For guidance, the Speaker encouraged members to consult this link on telecommuting policies from the Committee on House Administration.  

She also encouraged them  to consult the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control for further information on preventing the spread of coronavirus.  

“As this public health emergency develops, the House will continue to take strong, strategic and science-based action to keep the American people safe and ensure the continuity of Congressional operations,” Pelosi said.

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