Interest groups representing federal contractors wrote Congressional leaders and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget urging them to allow contractors to telework, with one group warning that preventing employees from working from home could lead to furloughs and layoffs.
The associations sent the joint letter because federal agencies could begin shuttering or limiting access to federal facilities. While that decision would limit potential exposure to the coronavirus, it would also mean contractors can’t carry out their duties, as many contractors are required to work at the facilities, the groups wrote.
“We urge you to include language in the pending relief legislation to encourage the use of flexible work solutions, including telework and virtual work environments, for contractors, as appropriate,” the letter says.
The letter is signed by the American Council of Engineering Companies, the Associated General Contractors of America, the Center for Procurement Advocacy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, CompTIA, the Information Technology Industry Council, Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the National Defense Industrial Association and Professional Services Council.
The letter is addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
The letter includes draft language that could be included in the coronavirus relief legislation. Negotiations for the final bill text are ongoing.
The Professional Services Council, which represents more than 400 small, medium and large government contractors, separately pressured OMB to act to protect contractors. In a news release March 19, PSC wrote that OMB needed to issue “clear and comprehensive” guidance to all chief acquisition officers and other federal acquisition officials stating that federal contractors can work from home while the government attempts to stop the spread of the new coronavirus known as COVID-19.
In a March 18 letter to OMB, David Berteau, president and chief executive of PSC, said that while federal employees can telework, contractors are often told that telework is not allowed under their contracts.
“Sending contractors home without authorizing telework effectively ends the important work being done for the government by those contractors and undermines the intent of guidance from the President and senior government officials,” Berteau wrote in a March 18 letter to acting OMB Director Russ Vought. “Companies are ready to work remotely to support their agency missions and functions, but if their contracting officers force them to cease supporting their government customers, this will jeopardize important agency missions. Furthermore, companies may have to lay off workers at this perilous time for the overall economy.”
PSC asked OMB to issue guidance reinforcing the authority of contract officers to allow telework on contracts and prioritize those authorities to keep the federal government operating at “full function."
"Contractors can support agency missions without interruption, but leaving telework approval up to individual contracting officers is inefficient, potentially creates confusion, and undermines America’s need to keep the government going,” Berteau said in a March 19 statement.
In recent weeks, federal employee unions have repeatedly pushed the Trump administration to allow federal employees to telework. Earlier in the week, OMB released guidance allowing federal employees to work from home, though some agencies have been slow to implement it.
The response to telework has differed from agency to agency. On March 17, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that all contractors and employees could work from home. In his announcement, Bridenstine wrote that “it is imperative that we take this pre-emptive step to thwart further spreading of the virus among the workforce and our communities.”
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.