As some Federal offices begin looking ahead toward reopening when the COVID-19 pandemic slows, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still largely pushing for maximum telework despite its rolling plan to reopen, an agency spokesperson confirmed to MeriTalk.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is taking an “extensive, transparent, data-driven, measured and deliberate approach” to opening the agency’s regional offices, including those in the National Capital Region, the spokesperson said. Working closely with Federal employee unions, EPA has held seven formal briefings over the span of 11 weeks to discuss its plan for reopening, the spokesperson said.
According to the spokesperson, even in the office’s first stages of its rolling reopening, employees will be encouraged to telework.
“Employees will continue to have maximum telework flexibilities and will not be forced to return to the office as EPA begins its measured and deliberate approach to reopening that ensures our employees’ health and safety,” the EPA spokesperson said.
In April, the largest Federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), disavowed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) memo outlining guidelines to begin sending Federal employees back to the office. In a letter to agency leaders, the union argued that more worker protections should be put in place prior to reopening.
Per OMB’s and OPM’s April memo, agencies are encouraged to continue maximum telework until the surrounding community sees a two-week decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitals have the capacity to treat all patients. While the EPA spokesperson confirmed the agency was relying largely on data to make its reopening decisions, the agency did not provide a timeline for reopening or confirm to what degree the OMB and OPM guides had influenced agency decision-making.