Planning for a Safe Increased Return of Federal Employees and Contractors to Physical Workplaces, and for Effective, Efficient, and Inclusive Post-Reentry Work Environments
By: Jason Miller, Deputy Director for Management, Office of Management and Budget; Kathleen McGettigan, Acting Director, Office of Personnel Management; and Katy Kale, Acting Administrator, General Services Administration
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is taking important steps to plan for an effective, orderly, and safe increased return of Federal employees and contractors to the physical workplace (“reentry”), given the significant progress in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the United States. The Federal Government employs more than four million Americans, including over two million in the Federal civilian workforce, throughout our country and across the world. Together, our agencies – the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the General Services Administration (GSA) – have been leading and supporting a government-wide effort consistent with the President’s clear expectation that the Federal Government serve as a model employer. Consistent with that approach, agencies have engaged in values-informed planning for how they can most effectively, equitably, and efficiently achieve their respective missions through personnel policies and other workplace considerations, once more Federal employees and contractors return to physical workplaces.
Today, to support agencies in those planning efforts, our agencies released OMB: Memorandum M-21-25 on Integrating Planning for A Safe Increased Return of Federal Employees and Contractors to Physical Workplaces with Post-Reentry Personnel Policies and Work Environment.
Please see below for a brief overview of the memorandum:
Values-Informed Planning for Effective Post-Reentry Personnel Policies and Work Environments
The memorandum released today includes OPM guidance related to telework, remote work, hours of work, performance management, and labor relations, as well as considerations for agencies on workplace planning from GSA. Overall, agencies’ decisions must be guided by how they can best achieve their respective missions, while living up to the President’s commitment to strengthen, empower, and galvanize the Federal workforce. Today’s guidance aims to achieve appropriate consistency across agencies, while providing agencies sufficient flexibility on workforce and workplace decisions, enhancing engagement and morale of Federal employees, and delivering against agency missions effectively, equitably, and efficiently.
Through today’s guidance, the Administration is reinforcing its commitment to the Federal workforce and its role as a model employer. Informed by changes in workplaces nationwide as a result of the pandemic, in response to long-term workforce trends, and supported by information in the guidance released today, agencies can, where appropriate, deploy personnel policies such as telework, remote work, and flexible work schedules as strategic management tools to be competitive in the broader labor market in attracting, retaining, and engaging talent.
Planning for a Safe Increased Return of Federal Employees and Contractors to Physical Workplaces
Given the significant progress in our fight against the pandemic, the guidance released today provides the following instructions and information for agencies as they plan for safe reentry and the future of their post-reentry work environments.
- Plans for reentry and post-reentry are to be completed July 19. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force), in collaboration with OMB, OPM, and GSA, has charged all agencies to complete their planning for reentry by July 19, 2021—meaning how and when to return an increased number of employees and contractors, as appropriate, in-person to the Federal workplace—as well as their intended post-reentry personnel policies and work environment.
- Agency COVID-19 workplace safety plans are still in effect; government-wide occupancy limits, however, are no longer in effect. Today’s guidance notes that agencies’ COVID-19 workplace safety plans should be updated as needed to align with current Task Force and CDC guidance. The occupancy requirements set forth in OMB Memorandum M-21-15, COVID-19 Safe Federal Workplace: Agency Model Safety Principles (January 24, 2021) are no longer in effect. Agencies may establish occupancy limits for specific workspaces or workplaces as a means of ensuring physical distancing between unvaccinated individuals.
- Prior to the safe increased return of Federal employees and contractors to physical workplaces, however, agencies must:
- Finalize their reentry and post-reentry planning;
- Update their COVID-19 workplace safety plans pursuant to current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines; and
- Satisfy labor relations requirements and provide ample notice to affected employees, both of which generally will occur after agencies develop phased reentry and post-reentry plans and update COVID-19 workplace safety plans.
- Voluntary disclosure of vaccination status can inform agency COVID-19 workplace safety plans and procedures. As noted in an answer to a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) provided by the Task Force earlier this week, Federal employees and contractors may voluntarily share information about their vaccination status. When a Federal employee or contractor voluntarily discloses that they are unvaccinated or declines to provide vaccination information, agencies should use that information to implement CDC-recommended mitigation measures, including masking and physical distancing. See the Task Force FAQ for more information on this topic.
Recognizing the Efforts of Federal Employees Throughout the Pandemic
Federal employees, like Americans nationwide, have demonstrated their resiliency time and again during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many thousands of Federal employees with responsibilities that could not be performed remotely have continued to undertake mission-critical duties at their workplaces and on the frontlines of the national response, day-in and day-out through the pandemic—we owe them a debt of gratitude.
Early in the pandemic, the Federal Government quickly went from 3 percent of employees teleworking every day to nearly 60 percent, as shown in the 2020 Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). Federal employees who transitioned to full-time or partial telework at the start of the pandemic were able to support the mission and day-to-day operations of their agencies, develop and implement policies, manage relief programs, and continue to deliver results for all Americans.
This rapid shift to increased telework and remote work was made possible because of agency investments in information technology (IT) modernization, such as adoption of cloud-based solutions, as well as the broad and strategic application of personnel policies, including weather-and-safety leave, pandemic evacuation, telework, remote work, alternative work schedules, and leave flexibilities. Federal agencies innovated to ensure delivery of services for Americans where they were. And throughout all these changes, agencies continued to deliver on their missions.
Keeping Federal Employees and Onsite Contractors Safe from the President’s First Day in Office
The President took action on his first day in office to protect the health and safety of Federal employees and contractors from COVID-19 through the issuance of Executive Order 13991, Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask Wearing (January 20, 2021), which established the Task Force and directed agencies to require compliance with CDC guidelines with respect to public health measures. Subsequently, M-21-15 required that agencies form COVID-19 Coordination Teams to develop and maintain tailored agency COVID-19 workplace safety plans consistent with CDC guidelines and the model safety principles provided by M-21-15. As a result, agencies have completed and implemented those plans, responding to updated guidance and information from the CDC and the Task Force as conditions change.
The safety of the Federal workforce remains of paramount concern. Today’s guidance notes that agencies’ COVID-19 workplace safety plans remain in effect and should be updated as needed to align with current guidance. Looking ahead, as part of this planning effort, OMB, in coordination with the Task Force, will continue to update the model safety principles in M-21-15, consistent with the latest CDC guidance. Stay tuned!