Biden administration sets mid-July deadline to finalize agency reentry plans

Agencies have until July 19 to submit employee and contractor reentry plans to the Office of Management and Budget, the Biden administration said Tuesday.

Agencies must finalize their plans for both reopening offices and setting post-reentry procedures and policies by that date, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, in collaboration with OMB, the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration, said in an email.

Those final plans will build on draft reentry plans, which agencies are supposed to submit to OMB by June 18.

Agencies can, in phases, bring more employees and contractors back to their work sites after completing their final reentry plans, satisfying collective bargaining obligations and giving the workforce advanced notice, the task force said.

Final plans should incorporate feedback from OMB, OPM and GSA, as well as forthcoming updates on workplace safety and the administration’s post-reentry personnel policy.

They should also give employees plenty of advanced notice and should describe what steps agencies will take to increase the number of people in the workplace, the task force said.

“Agencies have been advised that they should satisfy applicable collective-bargaining obligations and provide ample notice to any employees who will be returning to the physical workplace, who will have altered work schedules, or who will otherwise have altered work circumstances, consistent with the agency’s intended post-reentry work environment,” the task force email reads. “These determinations should be informed by ongoing discussions with employees, their representatives at all levels of the agency, supervisors, agency leadership, and other stakeholders about how to set up the agency and its workforce for success in the post-reentry environment.”

In addition, agency reentry plans should include a phased schedule for bringing employees and contractors back into their offices.

“It is important for agencies to keep in mind that federal employees are continuing to balance child care, elder care and other responsibilities while doing their part to deliver exceptional service to the American people, and employees will need ample time to address these arrangements as they plan to reenter the workplace,” the task force added.

GovExec first reported the new deadlines for agency reentry plans.

The President’s Management Council is leading the planning process as agencies prepare to reopen their offices to more federal employees and contractors.

Most federal workplaces have been operating under a 25% capacity limit, which OMB and the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force set back in January.

Additional guidance is coming. OPM has said it’s developing new guidance to help agencies make post-pandemic telework and remote work changes. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force said Tuesday agencies can expect more details that will support supervisors in implementing new personnel and work environment flexibilities.

Reentry plans and timelines may change depending on the nature of the pandemic, the task force said.

OMB and the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force already lifted mask mandates last month for fully-vaccinated federal employees and contractors.

SSA expects to increase telework from pre-pandemic levels

At the same time, many agencies are surveying their employees and reassessing their telework programs as they await further guidance from the Biden administration.

The Social Security Administration is the latest agency to announce a review of its telework program.

SSA deputy commissioners are reevaluating telework opportunities and are considering what their components have learned over the last year, the agency told its employees Friday. The pandemic has given SSA a chance “to build a new normal that improves public service,” the agency said.

“Generally, we expect to increase telework opportunities from our pre-pandemic levels,” SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul said in an email, which Federal News Network obtained. “We will also be seeking input from the unions and meeting any applicable labor obligations.”

SSA cut back and eliminated telework opportunities for some employees in the weeks leading up to the pandemic. The agency has since relied on telework since the pandemic began last March, though Saul acknowledged some SSA workloads — especially those that serve vulnerable populations — are best done in person.

“Public service must remain the key driver, but issues like employee retention, recruitment, morale, space savings, continuity of government operations and the environment will also inform our decisions,” Saul said. “Additionally, we are participating in a government-wide initiative about the future of work, which will guide our decisions including when more employees will return to the office.”

For now, maximum telework remains in effect, SSA said.

“I appreciate that telework is important to you and for your ability to plan in your personal lives so I wanted to take a moment to let you know we are working on it,” Saul added.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is surveying its employees about their experiences from the last year-and-a-half, which VA will use to inform their decisions on returning to the office.

Some 30,000 employees have responded so far to the survey, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said last week.

“I want to reassure our teams at [the] National Cemetery Administration and Veterans Health Administration that we are very focused on ensuring that they have the equipment needed to carry out their jobs safely,” McDonough told reporters Thursday. “I want our Veterans Benefits Administration colleagues and those colleagues from VHA and NCA who can work remotely to understand that I very much want to learn lessons from their experience of this last year and to apply those lessons going forward — to maximize their productivity, their job satisfaction and their opportunities for growth. That’s how we’ll do that, and if that means additional telework options I’m extraordinarily comfortable with that.”

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