The Office of Personnel Management made two announcements March 27 to assist federal agencies fight the new coronavirus and ease pressure on federal employees caring for loved ones while working from home.

In the first announcement March 27, OPM announced it was creating the COVID-19 Surge Response Program to allow agencies to post rotational opportunities to federal employees in support of the government’s response to the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 Surge Response Program will allow agencies to quickly realign their workforce so they can better accomplish their mission for the American people," said acting OPM Director Michael Rigas. "Dedicated civil servants will be able to go to one place and apply for a mission-critical position to support the public during this National Emergency.”

The program will use Open Opportunities, a website used by the government to provide professional development opportunities for federal employees. Agencies will post offerings there.

In another announcement, OPM released a fact sheet for federal employees with caregiving responsibilities as they work from home. In the fact sheet, OPM encouraged agencies to establish flexible work hours for teleworking employees.

Both federal and nonfederal employees have found themselves working from home — something that has become increasingly difficult due to child care and school closures. For example, Arlington Public Schools in Northern Virginia are closed through the end of the current academic year.

The OPM fact sheet said that it was created due to the Office of Management and Budget receiving “numerous questions regarding the circumstances faced by telework-eligible employees who have caregiving responsibilities due to closure of schools and/or unavailability of care providers as a result of locally-directed precautions for COVID-19.”

The fact sheet reiterated that employees can receive evacuation pay and work from home due to the pandemic. OPM also wrote that excused absences or administrative leave should be used sparingly.

But OPM did write that excused absences under evacuation pay authority should be considered only for “special circumstances.” For example, OPM wrote that employees who should be considered for excused absences should be those with children who attended a school that’s closed or employees with elderly family members whose typical caregiver is unavailable because of the pandemic.

President Donald Trump said March 29 that the government’s social distancing guidance will remain in place until April 30, signaling that the government anticipates the coronavirus fight to drag on for weeks.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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