GAO Official Flags Key Considerations for Agency Reopenings

While the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recently outlined key considerations for Federal agencies returning to work following the coronavirus pandemic, a GAO official said this week that the agency hasn’t yet seen a comprehensive and detailed plan from government that is comparable to some industry reopening plans.

GAO Managing Director for Strategic Issues J. Christopher Mihm expressed that view during a House Oversight and Reform Government Operations subcommittee hearing on June 26, in response to a question from subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., about whether the Federal government had a reopening plan similar to companies like IBM and Amazon.

“Nobody wants to be shut down – it has big economic consequences we all know – but we have to also have confidence and employees have to have confidence that as we reopen, they’ll be safe in their workplaces,” Mihm said. “And the public needs to have confidence that they’ll be safe in their interactions with government,” he added.

Mihm said during the hearing that GAO has been looking across Federal agencies to spot differences and commonalities with reopening plans, and whether any differences are a result of varying circumstances for the agency. In a recent report, GAO highlighted considerations for agencies including virus exposure risk level and local conditions when deciding to reopen offices across the country.

“To protect employees as they reenter the workforce, it will be important for agencies to have appropriate protection measures in place,” the report said. “They should also consider changes to the work environment to reduce workplace hazards, and implement social distancing strategies.”

Rep. Connolly emphasized during the hearing that the Federal government must have smart, evidence-based policies in place to best protect employees who aren’t able to work remotely.

“As our country continues to confront the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress must do more to protect the federal workforce. It is our duty as Congress and overseers to make sure any return to office space is done efficiently and safely — and for the right reasons,” Rep. Connolly said.

The congressman, who represents a large Federal employee population in his northern Virginia district, has been a consistent voice on cautious agency reopenings amid the pandemic.

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