Democratic senators from Maryland and Virginia penned a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Russell Vought and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director Michael Rigas urging them to clarify Federal agency reopening plans to continue maximum telework, and arguing that it’s “unsafe” to bring employees back to the office.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va.,  wrote in the July 9 letter that current guidance from OMB and OPM “is encouraging these unsafe actions.” They requested that agency leaders issue new guidance “to better protect the Federal workforce and surrounding communities from the increasing spread of COVID-19.”

Joint guidance from OMB and OPM in April still recommends maximum telework but stated that the Federal government was “actively planning” to ramp up operations based on local conditions. Since then, several agencies have begun transitioning some employees back to worksites, such as the Department of Defense allowing up to 80 percent of National Capital Region (NCR) employees to return, and the Environmental Protection Agency marking the return of political leadership.

“The current guidance is encouraging agencies to end maximum telework prematurely,” the letter states. “COVID-19 is a deadly threat to anyone – and anyone can carry the virus and transmit it to others – but the current OPM/OMB guidance only supports sustained maximum telework throughout the pandemic for certain workers deemed to be high risk.”

The senators noted that while the Federal government is marking the return of some employees, governments in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. are still adhering to liberal telework policies. Side effects of returning to the office – such as increased crowding on public transportation in the NCR –  the senators said as an example, will only increase the risk of catching COVID-19.

“We urge you to issue clearer guidance directing agencies to continue maximizing telework throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter concludes.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.