The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) told Federal agencies in a March 17 memo  to “maximize telework across the nation for the Federal workforce” due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, marking a significant shift from previous guidance which had included that mandate only for the Federal workforce in the National Capital Region surrounding Washington, D.C.

For agency operations outside the D.C. area, the previous guidance had said to maximize telework for Federal employees most at risk from severe illness from the virus.

The new guidance expands on that by instructing agencies to “maximize telework across the nation for the Federal workforce (including mandatory telework, if necessary), while maintaining mission-critical workforce needs.”

It goes beyond the Federal workforce proper by also instructing agencies to “assess professional services and labor contracts to extend telework flexibilities to contract workers whenever feasible.”

The OMB memo gives agencies 48 hours to begin implementing “risk-based policies and procedures based on CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance and legal advice, as necessary, to safeguard the health and safety of Federal workplaces to restrict the transmission of COVID-19.”

“Agencies shall work closely with their leads for COOP [continuity of operations plans] to fully leverage agencies’ authorities to execute their missions during the pandemic,” OMB said.

The memo from OMB Acting Director Russell Vought says the latest advice stems from the government’s adoption of a “concerted near-term operations posture that will appropriately align critical resources to slow down the transmission of COVID-19, while also ensuring that government operations continue.”

“This aggressive posture may affect government operations as agencies work to balance the needs of mission-critical work and greater social distancing,” the memo says.

“The government must immediately adjust operations and services to minimize face-to-face interactions, especially at those offices and sites where people may be gathering in close proximity or where highly vulnerable populations obtain services,” the memo says. “Exceptions may be needed when continued operations are necessary to protect public health and safety, including law enforcement and criminal-justice functions.”

“Non-mission-critical actions that cannot be performed remotely or that require in-person interactions may be postponed or significantly curtailed,” the memo says, adding, “Agency heads have flexibility to realign individuals or work units to higher priority services.”

In addition to telework policy, the memo also tells Federal agencies to:

  • “Reduce and re-prioritize non-mission-critical services to free up capacity for critical services”;
  • “Identify and resolve supply challenges that may be limiting factors of bottlenecks”;
  • Identify transportation limitations that could impact service delivery;
  • “Consider streamlining regulations and approval processes for critical services, including issuing general waivers policies and delegating decision-making where appropriate”;
  • Make sure that agency procedures restrict people infected with the virus – or at higher risk from serious illness from it – from Federal facilities. Persons to be restricted include both Federal and contractor employees, along with visitors to agencies.
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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.