Federal Employees News Digest

GAO: COVID safety improving


In January 2021, the Biden administration built on an already-mostly teleworking government to develop stronger safety standards, via the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force and—as the COVID pandemic was curbed—to plan for a wider return to normal federal workplaces. 

Now, a Government Accountability Office report has been released, listing specific agencies and the improvements they’ve made on COVID safety, along with highlights of moves toward greater normalcy at federal workplaces. 

Initial reentry plans, the report illustrates, were inadequate. But, in more recent months as the Task Force and other resources have been brought to bear, more consistent and safer minimums have been instituted and clearer post-COVID plans have been laid for the future. 

“Guidance issued in January 2021 established model safety principles and specific roles for the Task Force, directing Task Force members to guide and oversee agency COVID-19 workplace safety efforts,” the GAO report notes. “This increased clarity and oversight and supported consistency in workplace safety planning.” 

According to the report, all agencies studied now require adequate face masks and physical distancing, all have instituted improved ventilation and air filtration—and all are actively advising employees with “any COVID symptoms to notify supervisors,” and leave the workplace, along with taking other Task Force-advised measures. 

While there remain areas with room for improvement, the report notes that “[most] agencies reported either sustained or improved coordination after the establishment of the Task
Force.” 

“In particular,” the report added, “agencies highlighted the Task Force members’ engagement in workplace safety implementation and responsiveness to questions.”

Twenty-four agencies were scrutinized in the GAO report. These include: the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs. They also include many of the largest independent agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Agency for International Development, General Services Administration, National Science Foundation, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Personnel Management, Small Business Administration, and the Social Security Administration. 

One major federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), issued a brief summary of the report’s findings, stating approvingly that federal agencies reviewed in the study “are generally doing better in complying with health and safety directives compared with last year.”

2021 Digital Almanac

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