Fedweek

Guidelines, but No Timeline, Set for Return to Normal Agency Operations Washington DC, April 2020: President Donald J. Trump hands Vice President Mike Pence a swab during a coronavirus task force news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing room at the White House. New guidance sets gating criteria for jurisdictions to lift restrictions.

The Trump administration has issued guidelines for the conditions necessary and the steps to be taken to “ramp back up government operations to the maximum extent possible, as local conditions warrant,” although when and where that might start, and how long it would take, were left open-ended.

The guidelines – contained in a joint OPM-OMB memo, and they follow guidance the White House issued last week for lifting Coronavirus-related restrictions in general in a series of phases, which could result in wide variation among and within agencies, depending on local conditions and other factors.

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The general guidance set “gating” criteria which must be met in a jurisdiction before lifting of restrictions could even begin. Those include downward trending of covid-19 and similar cases and tests, hospital capacity, testing capacity and other factors. “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,” the federal agency-specific guidance says.

However, heads of agencies will make the final decisions according to the agency’s operational needs, and at the facility level decisions are to be made by the highest-ranking official of the agency occupying the building or by the local building committee, where there is more than one agency.

Actions such as reopening closed offices and calling employees back to the regular worksite from telework will vary according to the nature of the work and meanwhile agencies “must remain vigilant to minimize and control the impact of COVID-19 in their workplace,” it says.

“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 . . . agency leaders must continue to ensure continuity in delivery of federal government services, protect the health and safety of the federal workforce, and provide federal government leadership and momentum as an impetus toward a broader national return to normalcy,” it says.

It adds: “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 for Opening Up America Again.”

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