Sen. Peters Pushes Fed Agencies on Ensuring Employee Safety Amid Reopening Plans

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Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., has joined a growing list of legislators expressing concerns regarding Federal agencies reopening their offices amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

Peters’ July 14 letter to Federal agency heads comes on the heels of Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., saying that current guidance from Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) “is encouraging these unsafe actions.” Last month, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., also urged the Federal government to proceed with an abundance of caution with its planning to return workers to their office locations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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“While the country faces an unprecedented public health crisis and accompanying economic recession, it is more important than ever that the Federal government stands ready to serve the American people,” wrote Peters in a July 14 letter to agency heads. “It can only do so effectively if agencies protect the health and safety of Federal employees and the communities they serve.”

In the letter, Peters asked agency leadership to provide plans to safely reopen their offices, as well as what the steps they are taking to provide health and safety guidance and personal protective equipment to workers. The letter was sent to the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security (DHS), Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans’ Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, Agency for International Development, General Services Administration (GSA), National Science Foundation, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Small Business Administration, OPM, and Social Security Administration.

While he noted that OMB has issued “limited guidance” on how agencies can reopen, Peters said it “has left much of the decision-making up to individual agencies.” He acknowledged that “some flexibility is appropriate for agencies that can continue to safely telework,” but said agencies need to ensure they are being “transparent” with Federal workers about their plans to reopen while still protecting the health and safety of their workforce and their communities.

Peters gave agency leadership a lengthy list of questions to answer and requested their responses no later than July 24.

Kate Polit
About Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.

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