The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) this week announced that it will remove the COVID-19 governmentwide operating status on May 15 – meaning the pandemic will no longer drive how and where Federal employees work.

OPM implemented the COVID-19 operating status at the onset of the pandemic, instructing Federal agencies to operate with “maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, pursuant to direction from agency heads.” However, OPM said there is no longer a need for the pandemic to drive telework decisions as it once did in the period beginning March 2020.

“COVID-19 is not driving decisions regarding how Federal agencies work and serve the public as it was at the outset of the pandemic,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in an April 18 memo for agency chief human capital officers. “For the last several years, executive departments and agencies have taken steps for the effective, orderly, and safe increased return to the workplace, and many Federal employees have completed reentry.”

Ahuja noted that maintaining the COVID-19 governmentwide operating status was a way to “preserve maximum flexibility for agencies” while they adjusted their reentry plans appropriately.

OPM said agencies should follow last week’s guidance from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that asked Federal agencies to increase the amount of “meaningful” in-person work at Federal offices, while also balancing telework as an important retention tool.

Per the latest OMB guidance, agencies are developing updated work environment plans based on their post-pandemic reentry plans. Ahuja said agencies should “continue to strategically use telework and remote work policies in support of their workforce plans,” while also reaping the benefits of meaningful in-person work.

“As a practical matter, we do not expect this operating status change to have significant impact on agency and workforce readiness,” Ahuja said. “Agencies have been executing their reentry plans and policies over the past year ensuring effective and efficient delivery of services and programs.”

The OPM memo also makes clear that the operating status change only applies to employees working in all executive agencies with offices located inside the “Washington Capital Beltway.” For those employees working outside of the Washington, D.C. area, OPM said they should follow the operating status announcements issued by their agency.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.