The Office of Management and Budget told Federal agencies in a Jan. 24 memo that Federal workplaces should run at no more than 25 percent of occupancy while COVID-19 is spreading at high rates.

“The health and safety of the Federal workforce is the Administration’s highest priority,” according to the OMB memo, which appears to represent the Biden administration’s first official foray into the telework issue since taking office on Jan. 20.

“As a general principle, every effort will be made to maximize the use of remote work during widespread community transmission,” OMB said in the memo signed by Aviva Aron-Dine, Executive Associate Director.

“Unless it is physically impossible or poses a threat to critical national security interests, generally speaking, occupancy in Federal workplaces should be no more than 25 percent of normal capacity during periods of significant or high community transmission,” the memo states, adding that levels of community transmissions can be established by consulting the COVID Data Tracker County View maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the memo, Federal employees that now work remotely on a “frequent or regular basis” will be given advance notice and guidance before returning to physical workplaces. “The agency’s human resources (HR) team will evaluate activities, on an ongoing basis, that may require on-site work.”

OMB said that exceptions to the 25 percent in-workplace policy must be cleared by agency heads as advised by agency COVID-19 coordination teams and in consultation with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. The coordination teams, OMB said, should develop staffing plans that outline which employees will work on-site full-time, on-site occasionally, or fully remote.

The memo also covers masking, physical distancing, and office cleaning policies, as well as staggered shift considerations.

Noting President Biden’s executive order on mask-wearing issued last week, OMB emphasized that “distance and testing are not substitutes for wearing masks. Individuals should maintain distance AND properly wear masks.”

The executive order requires the 24 CFO Act agencies to submit tailored COVID-19 workplace safety plans by Jan. 29. After those are received, OMB and the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force will work with agencies to finalize plans.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.