As federal agencies carry out the Biden administration’s latest federal workplace pandemic policies, a coalition of groups representing federal managers has raised concerns about inconsistency among agencies, enforcement and other issues.
Agencies now are rolling out the most recent policies, calling for employees to either attest that they are fully vaccinated or undergo testing at least once a week if they are working onsite. The attestation forms are being distributed and meanwhile agencies are working on how those tests will be administered. Those policies added to policies regarding mask-wearing and other protocols that have changed along with pandemic conditions, most recently tightening as infections have resurged.
“Agencies often interpret OPM guidance in different ways, as each organization views the guidance through different organizational structures and programmatic lenses and lexicons. This is confusing and problematic for our members who lack central, authoritative guidance,” said the Government Managers Coalition, whose five members collectively advocate for the interests of some 250,000 managers.
“Failure by the administration to ensure agencies are properly equipping and empowering federal leaders to implement and execute the guidance and directives coming from the administration undermines its own objectives and priorities,” it said.
It said managers “are not trained nor equipped to develop and implement a rigorous healthcare screening protocol. Such a task, in addition to their day-to-day activities and increased hours worked during the pandemic, will undoubtedly lead to inefficiencies in their core responsibilities, as well as an inadequate screening protocol.”
They also questioned whether top management will support them as they try to enforce policies mask-wearing and other safety protocols, saying that “Managers are likely to face employment disputes enforcing COVID-19 protocols, especially as the administration strengthens potential disciplinary consequences to employees.”
Without support from the top and with the MSPB board still unable to issue decisions because of vacancies, “managers are extremely at risk. Managers are left choosing accountability for a worker who is disregarding the rules or having sufficient staffing to perform the central duties they are tasked with,” the letter said.
It’s currently unknown how many federal employees are fully vaccinated and thus how much testing will have to be conducted; employees who refuse to say are to be treated as if they are not, for purposes of testing and certain other policies. Only the VA and HHS have mandated vaccinations for parts of their workforces; the former is reporting an increase in vaccinations among covered employees, most of whom already were fully vaccinated.
Also unknown is how many who are not fully vaccinated will be working onsite and how often. Agency “reentry” plans that for the most part anticipated a phased return of more employees to their regular worksites starting as soon as this month have been pending approval at OMB since mid-July. There’s a widespread expectation that those plans—generally written during the downturn in infections—will have to be pushed off if not rewritten given current pandemic conditions.
The letter also expressed concern about how agencies are to pay for the testing, given that no money was appropriated for it and that the government likely will operate on stopgap funding starting October 1 after current funding expires. Such temporary measures typically continue funding at existing levels.