House Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., is asking the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to proceed with caution as it decides when and to what degree to have Federal employees return to their traditional office workplaces.

The congressman, whose Virginia district is home to many Federal employees, said in a May 20 letter to OPM Acting Director Kathleen McGettigan he believes that Federal employees “who need to be in offices should be allowed to return as soon as is practicable.”

“Yet we must balance the needs of continuing government operations and providing vital resources to the public with the equally important obligation to protect the health and safety of federal employees so that they can continue to provide those services,” he said.

Rep. Connolly’s letter follows closely on the heels of a request made earlier this week by Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., ranking member of the Government Operations Subcommittee, for OPM action to drive a rapid return of Federal workers to their office locations. Rep. Hice cited rising COVID-19 vaccination rates, and the needs of some citizens – veterans and Social Security recipients among them – for face-to-face government services.

In his May 20 letter, Rep. Connolly said that “some may be pushing to return federal employees to physical offices as soon as possible,” but urged OPM “to place the safety of our dedicated federal and contractor personnel at the forefront” of any discussions about that issue.

Of a return to traditional offices, the congressman said he is “hopeful that we are getting closer to that reality” because of rising vaccination rates. But he emphasized that “the health and safety of federal employees remains of paramount concern.”

“We must ensure that Administration officials are cautious and prudent when requiring federal employees and contractors to return to federal office buildings while continuing our responsibility to meet agency missions,” he said.

Rep. Connolly pointed to legislation he has championed – the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act – that was approved by the House Oversight and Reform Committee earlier this month, and would have Federal agencies provide employees with office-space safety plans before they returned to traditional offices. Agencies would provide employees with those plans 30 days before a return to physical offices.

The bill is named for a constituent of Rep. Connolly who worked at Marine Base Quantico and who passed away last year from coronavirus complications.

“Until this bill passes Congress and is signed into law by President Biden, I urge OPM to ensure that agencies put appropriate safety plans in place as they return their employees to federal facilities, Rep. Connolly said in his May 20 letter.

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