The IG offices of many agencies have reinforced concerns about safety in the workplaces to which more and more federal employees are being recalled, even amid resurgent numbers of infections in some local areas.
Protection of employees was included in many of a series of new special reports by IGs on management challenges facing agencies in relation to the coronavirus.
The topic further is set for a hearing this week in the House subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce, what will be Congress’s most thorough look into the topic following a hearing last week just on DHS.
In the IG reports, “concerns ranged from difficulty procuring adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer for employees who work in public-facing jobs, to allowing public access to federal lands, to protecting employees who work in countries with inadequate local health care systems,” said a summary by the central council of IGs which compiled the reports.
The IG of the GSA, for example, revealed that as long ago as early May, nearly 1,000 GSA owned or leased facilities “reported COVID-19 positive or presumed cases.” GSA received additional funding in one of the pandemic relief bills for additional cleaning, but in-person inspections by GSA officials in many cases “would be impossible and imprudent, given the health and safety risks involved.”
Instead, it said, GSA is relying on contractors—but past audits have found issues with the agency’s oversight of cleaning contracts including missing or inadequate quality control and “ineffective” oversight by GSA officials. “This will be of considerable importance as federal employees begin to return from extended telework and buildings reopen to the general public,” it said.
Places where federal employees work that are of especially high concern, the summary added, include federal prisons and detention facilities, VA medical facilities, meat processing plants, and private sector facilities where various types of inspections are performed.
Specific concerns also included that supply chains for needed products such as sanitizer, testing kits and personal protective equipment remain strained; that employees must be trained on how to use the equipment properly for it to be effective; and facilities not designed to accommodate social distancing.