In a report that in essence closes the book on OPM’s internal response to the Coronavirus under the Trump administration, the inspector general has criticized the agency for shortcomings including failure to assure that onsite employees were notified of actual or potential infections of nearby co-workers.
The report focused on the “Returning to OPM Facilities Preparedness Guide” that OPM issued last May, which has been replaced by generally stronger protections required under an executive order that President Biden issued on his first day in office in January.
While the report focuses on OPM’s internal steps, that agency—along with OMB—has been a focal point for federal workplace policies in response to the pandemic. It is one of a series from agency IGs requested by House government operations subcommittee chairman Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va.—who called it “a stunning indictment of the Trump administration’s reckless, rushed, and ultimately dangerous plans to return federal employees to the workplace in the middle of the pandemic.”
Among concerns the IG raised are that in a sampling of 10 suspected or confirmed cases of infections of employees who had been onsite in a six-month period starting last March, auditors were unable to determine if OPM had notified co-workers as required by its own policy in six. In three of those cases, the IG could not verify that policies regarding cleaning were followed.
“Employers have a general duty to provide a safe workplace. As COVID-19 cases continue across the country and with federal employees moving towards returning to facilities in greater numbers, it is critical that OPM follow its own guidance and the CDC cleaning and disinfecting recommendations, as well as provide timely notification to employees and building occupants of their possible exposure to COVID-19,” the report said.
OPM said in response that the co-workers were informed in those incidents but the IG replied that records show only that management officials discussed the incidents, not that other employees actually were notified. It similarly said that OPM had shown only that enhanced cleaning was discussed, not that it had been performed.
The report also said OPM fell short on policies regarding mask wearing, signage and communications with employees, issues that it said were addressed by the new policy issued under the current administration.