Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.)

Workforce

Connolly calls on IGs to check reopening plans for safety

As federal agencies consider the prospect of returning their employees to the office, one lawmaker is looking to enshrine worker safety as a priority in departments' reopening plans.

On June 15, House Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) sent letters to inspectors general offices at 24 federal agencies, asking for them to develop assessment plans to review their departments' plans for reopening.

"The Subcommittee asks that you review whether your agency and its managers are employing best practices and existing guidance when deciding whether or when to require federal employees and contractors to return to federal office buildings," Connolly wrote.

"This Administration's unwillingness to demonstrate sufficient concern about the health and welfare of our federal workforce makes your job even more vital to our nation."

Connolly criticized the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management for allegedly failing to respond to Oversight Committee members' concerns about meeting reopening criteria and whether agencies would have enough personal protective equipment on hand or COVID-19 tests for workers once they were mandated to return to their offices.

"Given the many shortcomings identified in the Administration's reopening guidelines, as well as the Administration's unwillingness to engage in even minimal oversight of its abysmal response to the coronavirus pandemic, we request that you carefully oversee and review your agency's actions in this area," Connolly wrote.

"Specifically, we ask that you review agreed-upon best practices for safe, healthy, and effective office re-openings from both governmental and non-governmental experts."

Agencies whose IGs received letters included the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In his letter to Acting IG Sean O'Donnell, Connolly also asked the Defense Department to investigate the death of Chai Suthammanont, a federal employee who worked in the kitchen in the child development center on the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., who dies of COVID-19.

"It is critical that we investigate whether the health and safety protocols at Quantico may have contributed to [his] death, in particular regarding policy disparities between different employees at the center, and how we can avoid future losses of life as we move to reopen federal workstations."

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