Several federal agencies with headquarters in the Washington, DC, area will bring a limited number of employees back to the office next week with safety guidelines in place and leeway for those not ready to return to their desks.
President Donald Trump has called for a quick return to normalcy following shutdowns in response to the coronavirus, though it has yet to be contained in the US. Twenty-two states as of Monday were seeing upward trends in confirmed cases.
The State Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency both plan to return some federal employees to the buildings June 15 under the first phase of their department’s reopening procedures, according to sources with knowledge. Maximum telework flexibility remains in effect for all FEMA employees in the first phase of reopening.
Under the first phase of the State Department’s “diplomacy strong” reopening plan, managers will be able to bring up to 40% of their teams back to the office. Phase one of FEMA’s reopening procedure will allow 25% occupancy and “must maintain the ability to follow social distancing protocols of at least 6 feet” according to a copy of the “FEMA Forward Framework Interim Guidance” obtained by CNN.
A State Department official said that the department’s leadership is working with each office as they develop their return to work plan and not allowing for much flexibility under the 40% benchmark. A department spokesperson said they “are closely monitoring local conditions in the greater Washington metro area” ahead of the expected reopening, and noted that “while telework is no longer mandatory in phase one, we still strongly encourage maximum use of telework opportunities.”
FEMA sent an email to their staff regarding the agency’s guidance about returning to work, containing a “phased approach as a goal” for the agency’s different locations, a FEMA spokeswoman said. “FEMA leadership is mindful of each location and taking different areas into consideration,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.
The Education Department’s headquarters and several regional offices brought the first group of employees back to offices on June 9 under phase one of their reopening plan, according to a department spokesperson.
Washington lifted the city’s stay at home order and entered phase one of its reopening plan on May 29. Many federal agency headquarters are located in the District.
The Treasury Department plans to transition to phase one of their reopening plan next week as well, according to a Treasury official.
The Office of Personnel Management, the agency that provides government-wide guidance on the operating status of the federal government, said that each federal agency can make “operating decisions based on state or locality of duty stations and other factor for a phase transition to normal operations,” in a statement to CNN.
Back to the office in the COVID era
Under the first phase of the Education Department’s reopening plan, employees are not required to return to work, but for those who do return to the office, they are required to follow social distancing guidelines, maintaining six feet of distance from others everywhere in the building. Face coverings are required when entering the building, going through security and when they are within 6 feet of another person, the plan states.
Meetings of 10 or fewer people can be held in person, but anything larger than that must be held virtually or over the phone. All external events will continue to be held virtually and visitors are “highly discouraged,” according to the plan.
In phase one, employees are still allowed to use their flexible work schedule and flexible telework schedule, the plan states.
Department employees who are considered part of the vulnerable population under the CDC’s definition can continue to telework, as well as employees with dependent care responsibilities, according to the plan.
This story has been updated to include additional comment from a State Department spokesperson.