Agencies should expand telework for employees at ‘higher risk’ for coronavirus, OMB says

The latest guidance from the Trump administration comes as the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives and Records Administration close museums, resea...

The Trump administration has again urged agencies to maximize telework opportunities to eligible federal employees, especially those who are considered at “higher risk” for complications due to the coronavirus.

“In light of the evolving situation concerning the novel coronavirus (‘COVID-19’), including
emergency declarations in multiple states and the District of Columbia, the administration wants to
ensure that department and agency leaders assertively safeguard the health and safety of their
workforce,” Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in new guidance issued Thursday night.

OMB’s latest guidance is relatively short, just one page, and describes the populations that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers at “higher risk” for COVID-19, the illness caused by the current strain of the coronavirus.

Older federal employees and those with underlying health conditions such high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease or compromised immune systems are considered at higher risk for the coronavirus.

Agencies can take employees at their word that they’re in one of these high risk populations, OMB said. They don’t need a doctor’s note to justify and allow “high-risk” employees  to telework or take leave, the guidance said.

In addition, OMB urged agencies to take a local approach when considering broader telework announcements.

“Agencies are encouraged to consult with local public health officials and the CDC about whether to extend telework flexibilities more broadly to all eligible teleworkers in areas in which either such local officials or the CDC have determined there is community spread,” Vought said. “Agencies are also encouraged to extend telework flexibilities more broadly to accommodate state and local responses to the outbreak, including, but not limited to, school closures.”

Several states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, have declared states of emergency and closed schools due to local coronavirus outbreaks.

OMB’s guidance also applies to federal employees who aren’t telework eligible, the administration said. Agencies should grant weather and safety to leave to non-eligible employees who are considered at higher risk for the coronavirus.

OMB’s guidance is only an encouragement, not a mandate. It’s still up to individual agencies to expand telework and leave to their employees.

Few agencies so far have sent their employees home to telework due to coronavirus concerns, though the Social Security Administration and Environmental Protection Agency have closed some regional and field offices in Seattle, Washington, and New York City and the surrounding suburbs.

The Securities and Exchange Commission was the first federal agency to ask all employees at its headquarters in D.C. to telework.

OMB’s guidance comes as two of the largest employee unions on Thursday said the Trump administration’s efforts to protect federal workers were lackluster.

Several federal employees have emailed Federal News Network with their own concerns.

For at least one member of Congress, OMB’s latest guidance still falls short.

Smithsonian museums, National Archives close

The Smithsonian Institution announced it would temporarily close all museums, including the National Zoo, in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and New York City starting March 14. The closures are a “public health precaution” due to the coronavirus, according to a message on the Smithsonian website.

The National Archives and Records Administration will close their research rooms, presidential libraries and other museums Friday, the agency announced.

National Archives employees will respond remotely to emailed record requests and other inquiries from the public.

All other NARA events at its Washington, D.C. and College Park, Maryland, facilities are canceled through May 3.  The Office of Government Information Services’ annual “Sunshine Week” gathering originally scheduled for Monday is also canceled.

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