The impact of the pandemic on the federal workforce is drawing increased attention of Congress on several fronts, with the House set to advance a plan to create a special fund for pandemic-related leave and additional scrutiny arising on the pace of inoculations of federal employees.
The House could vote by the end of this week on a bill containing a broad range of pandemic relief and economic stimulus provisions, including a $570 million “emergency federal employee leave fund.” Agencies could draw on the fund to provide up to 600 hours of paid leave to an employee who has no sick leave remaining but who is unable to work for reasons including a quarantine or sickness with covid-19 or similar symptoms or the need to care for a family member who is sick or quarantined; or the need to care for a child whose school or day care is less than fully open—or for an older or disabled relative whose regular care is unavailable—due to the pandemic.
The measure also would put in law a Labor Department policy of presuming that any Coronavirus infection of federal employees in certain positions is work-related, for purposes of eligibility for injury compensation or death benefits under the FECA program.
If the House approves the measure, attention would turn to the Senate, which has not written a counterpart likely would make changes that would have to be resolved between the two. Democratic leaders hope to gain final enactment by March 14, the current expiration of certain unemployment benefits that the bill would extend.
Meanwhile, House Democrats from the Washington, D.C. area have raised concerns about the large number of federal employees in the current priority level for vaccinations but who have not yet been inoculated, saying they are effectively competing against others at the same level for the available supply being administered through state and local channels.
The federal government “should vaccinate federal employees through a separate federalized allocation to get them vaccinated as soon as possible,” they said in a letter to OPM and FEMA similar to one sent earlier by the governors of Virginia and Maryland and the mayor of the District of Columbia.
Vaccinations of employees by two of the federal agencies that have received direct supplies, the VA and the DoD, were a focus in recent hearings. The VA said it has administered both needed doses to some 220,000 employees and an initial dose to some 40,000 more, with as much as nine-tenths of the workforce at some facilities now fully inoculated.
The VA meanwhile has completed the inoculations of some 400,000 veterans and has administered an initial dose to nearly 700,000 more, but the figures for employees of other federal agencies—mainly DHS components—eligible for inoculation at the VA under a partnership arrangement were only about 1,000 completed and another 9,000 with an initial dose.
DoD said it has administered both doses to some 270,000 personnel, including both civilian and military, and initial doses to some 700,000 more. About 270,000 civilians have received at least one dose, officials said, although that number includes not only DoD employees but also certain other civilians such as on-site contractor employees.
However, they added that it could be as late as August before DoD administers both doses to all civilian and military personnel who want to be inoculated. In a memo last week on its inoculation plans for those working at the Pentagon and associated buildings, DoD told employees that “We strongly encourage you to also seek other opportunities to become vaccinated.”