Consistently implementing the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate is an uphill battle for a government with such a large workforce.
Case in point: mandate exemption requests, which have become a hot button issue as each agency is responsible for making those decisions on a case by case bases.
Jason Miller, who as the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget is part of the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force team shaping the implementation guidance, said interagency engagement is the key to consistency. Miller said they are working to provide full support across agencies so no single agency is making decisions without the appropriate information.
“Both the task force, but also pulling all of the agencies together, not just those on the task force,” MIller said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “We have the key management leaders from each agency. We work closely with the CHCO Council — that’s the chief human capital officer in each agency — so that the senior officials that are overseeing these processes and making determinations for how they’re run have complete clarity around any questions that they have, that they’re able to talk amongst their peers at other agencies so that we can support and enable that consistency.”
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The challenge for consistency, of course, extends to the federal contracting community, who has an even greater challenge with such a different dynamic for their workforce.
Miller said it is vital to provide the same level of support for contractors that they are striving to provide agencies, because they are critical to the government meeting its mission.
“We are trying to ensure a substantially similar approach between what we’re doing for the federal workforce and what we’re doing for federal contractors,” Miller said. “We believe the federal contracting community is part of the federal family, providing vital mission support, vital services for our products across the entirety. And that’s how we’re operating.”
Miller said OMB is also looking beyond vaccinations.
Getting the workforce vaccinated, along with ensuring that agencies have safety plans in place and are engaging with employees and unions will also help shape decisions on what the future of work will look like as they discuss reentry plans.
Miller noted that while the reentry conversations are happening, they are not looking to jump back to what work looked like for employees before the pandemic.
“We’ve been clear, we’re not going to snap back to February of 2020. We’ve learned a lot, just like all employers. There are ways that we can do our work more effectively, more efficiently. We’ve identified ways to improve service delivery, do things remotely that are better for the beneficiaries of those services,” Miller said. “We’re going to be a more flexible employer, period. The federal government will be a more flexible employer across the board, every single agency, than it was before the pandemic. I think that’s a good thing.”
Working with the federal workforce to make their lives better will make the federal government agency a more attractive employer and make the government more competitive in the labor market, Miller said.
OMB, along with the President’s Management Council, Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration, have launched pilot “pulse surveys” that get sent to federal employees. The short three to four point questionnaire will use general questions to help managers hear directly from employees.
“We’re asking general questions about their current experience, about their engagement in the workforce, about health and safety, about inclusion, important questions. We’re very focused on ongoing engagement with the federal workforce,” Miller said.