Senior Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee are asking the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for information about how it plans to protect Federal employees amid the sharp increase in coronavirus infections in the U.S., and whether it plans to update guidance to federal agencies in light of the current COVID-19 uptick “and the wave of increased infections expected this winter.”

In a Nov. 2 letter to OPM Acting Director Michael Rigas, five House Ways and Means subcommittee chairs roundly criticized what they called the Trump administration’s “failed efforts to ensure federal employees and their families remain safe amidst the accelerating spread of COVID-19 across the nation.” They asserted that the rising infection rate in the United States “underscores the extent to which the administration is carelessly endangering federal employees to prematurely return to in person work.”

The members of Congress asked Rigas to respond by Nov. 9 to the question about any forthcoming pandemic guidance for the entire Federal workforce, and in particular for employees of agencies over which the committee has oversight, including the departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Among those questions are whether OPM is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on employees returning to in-person work when considering guidance for the Federal workforce.

“The agencies the Committee oversees do vitally important work on behalf of workers, children, families, and seniors, and to the extent in person work is necessary to provide critical services to the public, all efforts must be taken to avoid unnecessary exposure to the virus,” the House Democrats said.

They called OPM’s April 2020 workforce guidance to agencies “troubling,” and said, “Agencies that rush to end maximum telework prematurely will likely risk unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 for their employees and enhanced community spread as a result.”

Signing the letter were: Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., chairman of the Oversight subcommittee; Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chairman of the Select Revenue Measures subcommittee; Danny Davis, D-Ill., chairman of the Worker and Family Support subcommittee; Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, chairman of the Health subcommittee; and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., chairman of the Trade subcommittee.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.