Disagreements continue over government role in pandemic reopeningJohn Sanders
Democrats and Republicans in Congress are disagreeing about what sort of example the US federal government has to establish for returning back to work.
Certain conservative members argue that it’s the government’s responsibility to take the lead by resuming in-person operations and reopening all federal offices. On the other hand, many Democrats have repeatedly stated that government officials should establish comprehensive safety measures first and give precedence to permitting flexible work arrangements wherever possible, thus boosting confidence in the private sector to do the same.
The Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget, in their reopening guidance remarks, allowed individual agencies to decide for themselves, depending on their state’s safety precautions and COVID-19 numbers.
As the pandemic grew stronger in the US, numerous federal agencies started switching to a telework-based model with only essential employees whose jobs require in-person attendance for the safety and health of the country being allowed to work in their regular workspaces.
Lorraine Martin, the CEO and President of the NSC, stated that employees who had successfully adapted to the telework system should be enabled to do so for the foreseeable future. She also said that this pandemic would lead organizations operating in both public and private sectors to increase their telework capabilities and restrict usage of their office spaces only to those occasions when physical presence is absolutely crucial.
Christopher Mihm, the managing director for strategies issues at GAO stated that reports of the experiences of agencies with telework had been encouraging so far, meaning that telework would now be an essential part of the future.
While many states have started reopening their offices in a controlled manner, COVID-19 cases have been spiraling rapidly with June 24 registering the largest number of cases recorded in a single day.
The White House stated that this was primarily due to increased testing. Although CDC death counts have been falling for a while now, the agency acknowledged that there was a significant lag time between the occurrence of a COVID-19 death and official acknowledgment of the same by the authorities, thus causing data figure to be slightly off the mark.
Employees whose work cannot be completed via telework are now being allowed to return to their offices, provided they are not susceptible to the virus due to pre-existing health issues.
However, federal employee groups and unions have been speaking out against reopening plans, especially since they don’t offer all staff members with PPE or implement comprehensive testing measures.
Mihm stated that GAO was worried about different federal agencies working in the same area creating clashing reopening plans, which could leave employees confused.
He added that agencies needed to be more aggressive in managing employee concerns and communicate important information to them regarding personnel guidance including staffing, leave, pay options, and other flexibilities, which are being offered to employees in order to prevent operations from being disrupted.