It was a fast-moving weekend for the Federal government and its evolving responses to, and planning for, impact of the spreading COVID-19 coronavirus. Here’s a quick look at some of the top developments of interest to the Federal IT community:
Telework Okayed for D.C. Region
The Office of Management and Budget released guidance for Federal agencies to provide “maximum telework flexibilities” to all current telework-eligible Federal employees in the National Capital Region (NCR). Previous guidance that ties telework availability to those at highest risk of serious illness appears to remain operative for Federal employees outside of the NCR.
OMB Clamps Down on Fed Travel
The Office of Management and Budget issued instructions to Federal agency and department heads on March 14 to limit any travel by Federal agency employees to “mission-critical” situations due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. The new travel policy reflects the administration’s aim “to prioritize the health and safety of the work force – and of Americans broadly,” OMB said.
DoD Halts Domestic Travel
The Defense Department announced a halt to all domestic travel including permanent changes of station and temporary duty travel, effective March 16 to May 11. Service members will be authorized for local leave only. The Pentagon said the travel ban is in addition to restrictions on all DoD military and civilian personnel and their families traveling through areas for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice.
The travel halt, DoD said, is aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and represents “the best and safest route” to slowing the spread of the virus.
As of Sunday, March 15, ten U.S. service members tested positive for the coronavirus. In addition, one DoD civilian and two DoD contractors have tested positive, along with eight family members, DoD said.
CDC Warns Against Gatherings of 50 or More
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC issued guidance recommending against gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks, and asked organizers of large events to cancel them. Examples of such gatherings include conferences, CDC said.
The agency said that “events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing.
Senate Expected to Vote on Virus Relief Bill
A Senate staff source considers it likely that the Senate will vote Tuesday on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that was approved by the House on Friday. The legislation provides free coronavirus testing, paid sick and family leave, additional unemployment benefits, and food aid.
The Census Bureau announced a handful of tweaks and delays to its schedule for gathering data from various groups including college students, group quarters residents, and service providers. The Bureau said it was adjusting some operations “with two key principles in mind: protecting the health and safety of our staff and the public and fulfilling our statutory requirement to deliver the 2020 Census counts to the President on schedule.”
The Bureau said the planned completion date for data collection for the 2020 Census is July 31, but said “that date can and will be adjusted if necessary as the situation dictates in order to achieve a complete and accurate count.”