Fedweek

President Joe Biden signs executive orders during his first minutes in the Oval Office on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 at the White House.

President Biden on his first day issued several executive orders of direct impact on the federal workplace—with more likely to come soon—and meanwhile there was no sign that the Trump administration took last-minute actions to carry out its controversial “Schedule F” executive order.

As indicated earlier, one of Biden’s first actions was to generally mandate wearing of masks and compliance with other CDC pandemic-related recommendations in federal buildings and in certain other settings subject to federal jurisdiction. Agencies can make case-by-case exceptions but if they do, they are to take other protective steps.

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Agency workplace policies generally already require masks, along with social distancing, cleaning and other protocols, in settings where federal employees may come into close contact with each other or the public. However, there have been numerous reports of lack of compliance with those policies but no public reports of disciplinary actions in response. It’s unclear whether the executive order would provide for such actions.

The pandemic in general will be among the new administrations’ top priorities, with emphasis growing the amount of available vaccine and greatly increasing the rate of inoculations. That could indirectly benefit federal employees who are in occupations deemed high priority but who still have not received inoculations, either directly from their agencies or along with those of similar priority in the general population.

Federal agencies in general have reported few details of inoculations given to their employees from amounts they received directly, with the notable exception of the VA which recently reported that it had inoculated a large share of its Veterans Health Administration employees and which recently began inoculations of DHS employees at VA medical centers, as well.

Biden also has said that as part of a wide-scale pandemic and economic relief package he would reinstate a now-expired provision under one of the earlier relief laws for additional paid sick leave. That primarily applied to the private sector; although it also extended to federal employees in some situations, it is unclear how widely it was used in federal agencies. That package would require approval by Congress.

Also as earlier announced, one of the first-day orders focused on ethical issues for senior appointees, including a new version of an ethics pledge—both the Obama and Trump administrations had imposed their own versions—affecting actions regarding a former employer or personal financial interests, post-employment restrictions and more.

Other early actions included orders that:

· Overrode a September 2020 Trump administration order that effectively suspended diversity and inclusiveness type training virtually government-wide pending an OPM review of training materials for certain content. A federal court already had blocked implementation of that order as it applies to contractors and grantees, although not to training for federal or military personnel.

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· Generally suspended further action on proposed rules pending a review by the new administration. That would affect rules including those to: allow certain positions to be filled much longer under only term assignments; raise the value of performance ratings in RIF retention over veterans preference and length of service; and formalize an order giving agencies more discretion over administrative law judges.

· Required agencies to review their policies related to discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation for compliance with civil rights laws, “including any that relate to the agency’s own compliance.”

Meanwhile, there have been no reports that the Trump administration acted to carry out its order—which Biden is widely expected to override—to convert positions involved with policy or confidential advice to senior leaders from the competitive service to a new excepted service Schedule F. Such employees would then lose their civil service appeal rights and union representation rights and the positions could be filled by direct appointment without competition, much like political appointees.

That order had called on agencies to report to OPM by Tuesday (January 19) on positions that would potentially be subject to such conversions, with the potential for summary firings and replacement of incumbents by persons of the Trump administration’s choosing. Just ahead of that deadline, concerns arose about last-minute conversions—with related firings and replacement by Trump selectees—at agencies including OMB and OPM itself.

Legislation (HR-326) has been offered in the House to bar any future administration from imposing a similar policy.

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2021 Federal Employees Handbook