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  • Senators Call on OPM to Ensure Feds and Contractors Are Protected as Coronavirus Spreads

    A health alert for people traveling to China is shown at a TSA security checkpoint at the Denver International Airport. Many federal employees and contractors face exposure to the novel coronavirus in the course of their work. AP file photo

    A group of senators on Friday, noting that the federal government is the largest employer in the nation, called on the Office of Personnel Management to take steps to ensure federal employees and contractors will not be penalized for taking health precautions during the COVID-19 outbreak.

    The Democratic senators wrote to OPM Director Dale Cabaniss with concerns that the personnel agency’s guidance does not prioritize the health and safety of the approximately 2 million civil servants and 4.1 federal contractors. While acknowledging that the trajectory of the novel coronavirus continues to evolve, the lawmakers said OPM should do more to support federal workers, many of whom face exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 in the course of their jobs.

    “We worry that OPM’s guidance to date does not demonstrate to our nation’s hardworking public servants that the federal government is prioritizing their health, well-being, and economic security,” they wrote. “We urge you to swiftly develop and circulate guidance that does more to reassure them that they will not be penalized for heeding public health guidance, they will continue to receive pay while doing so, and they will not be expected to work while sick.”

    The letter was signed by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Gary Peters, D-Mich. They all  represent large numbers of federal employees and contractors in their states. They asked Cabaniss to:

    On Thursday, three House Democrats reintroduced a bill to protect telework at agencies and expand access due to the coronavirus. While OPM and the CDC have advocated for telework, some agencies have recently scaled back telework options for employees.

    As the virus continues to spread globally, many federal employees and contractors have a particular risk of exposure because of the nature of their work. This includes Internal Revenue Service employees handling envelopes and documents from taxpayers nationwide, Customs and Border Protection officers screening people at ports of entry and military personnel and Defense contractors working at installations in high-risk countries.

    The senators said that, as was demonstrated during the last government shutdown, many federal employees and contractors live paycheck to paycheck. They asked OPM to be generous and make sure employees can protect themselves without fear of losing pay.

    Anthony Marucci, OPM director of communications, told Government Executive, “We have received the letter and will respond to Congress as necessary.”

    Post time: Mar-10-2020