US government agencies to begin “phased transition” to normal working operations

By on 12/05/2020
Department of Veterans Affairs facilities are to begin a phased return to normal operations once certain conditions – including increased testing capacity for coronavirus – have been met. (Photo by senior master sgt. Dan Farrell, courtesy U.S. Louisiana National Guard).

The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has published a notice stating that the federal government will begin a “phased transition” to normal working operations, in line with guidelines unveiled by President Trump last month to ‘open up America again’.  

The OPM notice makes clear that federal government agencies will make operating decisions based on state or local lockdown rules, alongside other factors. For example, government buildings may begin to reopen in some states where lockdown measures are being relaxed, while remaining closed in states where tighter restrictions remain in place.

To date, 31 US states – including Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania – have partially reopened, and four others will be reopening soon. The remaining 15, including Washington, New York and California, are either fully locked down or have restrictions in place.

The notice advises employees to contact their supervisor with any questions regarding the operating status of their office or agency. It also suggests that members of the public planning to visit a federal building confirm the facility’s status before visiting. “Some agency buildings and locations may have select hours, reduced in-person services, or visitor restrictions in place,” it notes.

Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser, who has not yet made a decision on reopening the city, said the district’s current position is that “the majority [of federal employees] stay on telework as long as possible,” according to CNN

Three-phase plan

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – the second biggest US government department by number of employees – has drawn up a rough three-phase plan for how it will begin to resume operations at its medical centres, benefits offices and cemeteries.

VA secretary Robert Wilkie said last week that the department will first consider local conditions before deciding which facilities can begin resuming regular operations – by, for example, initially offering some in-person appointments and, further down the line, allowing the majority of VA employees to return to their workplaces.

The news follows an April 20 memo issued by the OPM and the Office of Management and Budget. Directed at heads of executive departments and agencies, it details how they should begin gradually reopening federal offices.

The US has the highest number of COVID-19 related deaths in the world. As of 12 May, it had recorded 81,634 deaths and 1.38m cases. New York is the worst affected state by number of infections and deaths, followed by New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and California.

Earlier this week, it emerged that three top health officials – including Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force – were self-quarantining after vice president Mike Pence’s press secretary and one of Trump’s valets tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, most White House officials will be asked to wear masks or face coverings in public spaces.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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