White House Outlines Strategy for Federal Agencies Resuming Operations

April 22, 2020 by Dan McCue
The U.S. Commerce Department. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – Federal workers hoping for some clarity on when and how they will return to work in their offices got a hint on Monday, when the White House released its framework for gradually reopening the federal government.

The framework, spread across 11 pages, is entitled “Aligning Federal Agency Operations with the National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.”

It was sent to all heads of executive departments and agencies by acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought and acting Office of Personnel Management Director Michael Rigas.

“In general, the federal government will calibrate its transitional strategy to return to normal operations to the phase of a state, county, region, or metropolitan-area determined by the state assessment,” they said, adding that the road ahead may not be smooth.

“Given the diversity of federal workforce missions, geographic locations and the needs of individuals within the workforce itself, this transition will require continued diligence and flexibility from federal agencies and the federal workforce,” they said.

But state and even local assessments only go so far, the advisory says. Department heads and their management teams must also consider school and childcare closures, mass transit availability, parking availability, facility requirements and their missions.

Vought and Rigas reminded the recipients that “Mitigation measures for an office worker will likely look much different than the measures for those who perform their jobs in a non-office setting and would result in potentially different operational phasing and mitigation decisions even within a single geographic location.”

Because 85 percent of the federal workforce resides outside the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, the administration anticipates federal managers having to weigh “a wide variety of reopening plans and operating status updates that may differ depending on location, mission and agency.”

Since each agency will likely take a different approach to reopening in each state, departments must post their operating statuses for each facility on their websites, Vought and Rigas said.

The Office of Personnel Management will also keep a running compilation of this information on its website.

When it comes to managing ongoing telework assignments Rigas and Vougt said managers should remain flexible, and continually revise plans to reflect local conditions.

All “high risk” federal employees who are eligible for telework should continue to work remotely — and may continue to do so through the gating period and at least the first two phases of the reopening framework,” the guidance says.

“Until agencies have resumed normal operations and risk is minimal, all federal agencies are encouraged to maximize telework flexibility to all eligible workers,” the memo continues.

The guidance also suggests that taking precautions to protect federal workers at a high risk of coronavirus infection will go on for some time.

In addition, the White House says it’s up to each agency’s building mission to set screening procedures and social distancing standards.

Agencies may, for example, consider closing common areas or banning shared food in the office buildings. They should also ensure they have hand sanitizer, soap and toilet paper on hand, the guidance said.

Finally, the guidance advises agencies with customer-facing missions, including national parks, Social Security offices, Small Business Administration loan offices, Department of Veterans Affairs facilities and others, to make an effort to resume normal operations as soon as possible.

“Agencies must prioritize capacity building for those services that are the most public-facing as well as those critical to implementing COVID-19 response efforts to help the nation’s recovery,” the guidance says. “For those agencies with a customer-facing mission, agencies should determine how to prioritize reopening properties and facilities and provide increased public access to these facilities in a manner that is consistent with the national guidelines.”

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