Agencies approach time to fly the COOP

Corona virus should make SSA management get over its telework allergy

Sometimes the news is enough to want to make you crawl back into bed. All those candidates who worked just as hard as Bernie and Joe but got only a few measly delegates, they might have wanted to just turn off the alarm and bag it today.

The poor folks in the Nashville, Tennessee environs awoke to another type of loss, including 24 souls. Many people there don’t even have a bed to crawl back into.

People are starting to get edgy about the latest contagion to threaten civilization, both eastern and western. Now the first federal facility has closed as a result. The federal building in King County, Washington is under a 14-day quarantine, or its Homeland Security employees are. One astute employee had visited a relative in what turned out to be ground zero for the virus outbreak in the state. He or she alerted DHS, prompting the closure and requested self-quarantine for people sent home.

Stuck at home, though, no one encourages them to pull the covers back over their heads. Acting Secretary Chad Wolf tells them, if they feel well, to try and telework. Even with a computer and a good internet connection, that can pose challenges. Sometimes you need more than email. Not everyone may have the set-up to access mission applications remotely.

Earlier, the Office of Personnel Management, in its coronavirus guidance,  said that employees thus rendered home can get weather or safety leave. The guidance refers to human resource flexibilities.

With scary warnings coming from federal health officials, who also recommend telework, I wonder whether management at, say, Social Security will soften its stance against telework for the duration of the coronavirus scare. Social Security, along with Agriculture and Education, have hacked back at telework for their employees, halting policies going back to the Bush administration.

In the case of disease — or fire, flooding, earthquakes or lava flow from volcanoes — telework should be a component in an agency’s continuity of operations plan. True, in the long sweep of work history, telework didn’t really exist as we know it until the late 1990s. But why not use it?

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Not surprisingly, GovExec reports, telework in the coronavirus period has become a fresh point of contention between federal unions and the agencies with which they’re contending. In particular, the American Federation of Government Employees says SSA officials are waiting for orders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The union says SSA ought to be listening to OPM.

I’m not sure contingency would humble the obdurate heart of the Social Security Administration or any other agency’s management. But the possibility of needing to evacuate buildings would rank right up there.

Bridge to another thought: The Federal Employees Education and Assistance Fund. When hardships strike agencies institutionally, FEEA helps employees individually. It offers emergency hardship loans and small grants to help fix damage from disasters, among other programs. It’s not insurance but it helps.

You can help FEEA. It accepts donations and stages programs, like its annual 5K Run/Walk, to raise funds. Now I’ll be converging a personal pursuit with a public one. The first Federal News Network Motorcycle Ride for Charity will take place Friday, June 26th. Proceeds will benefit two organizations: FEEA and Friends of Patients of the NIH. If you ride, take a half day and sign up!

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