Why OMB has not released a more concrete plan for federal reopening

Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management guidance issued April 20 on the reopening process for federal agencies refrained from setting specific dates for when federal employees will be expected to return to the office, a decision that acting OMB Director Russell Vought said was intended to allow for flexibility based on geographic location.

“One of the reasons that we have not provided a directive across the federal government, is because this is a 50-state issue that needs to be thought through in conjunction with the public health officials on the ground,” said Vought at a June 2 confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Federal guidance on the whole has deferred to states to determine when to move through each of the three stages of opening, based on their case numbers and medical capabilities. Areas like Washington, D.C., have just entered into their first phase of reopening, whereas the city of Chicago plans to enter into phase three in the coming week.

According to Vought, OMB guidance is instead designed in a “grid” to give leadership the necessary reference material to determine when reopening is possible.

“We have tried to make sure that they have a grid that follows the phases of the governors in which their offices are located and to ensure that they don’t open up if they don’t have the necessary [personal protective equipment] or other resources to be able to keep their workers safe,” Vought said.

The federal government currently employs over 2 million people in positions that range from traditional office work to medical care and law enforcement positions. That diversity makes nailing down the intersection of safe workplace practices and public need for services on a governmentwide scale difficult.

Some agencies have already made the determination to recall “mission critical” employees back to the office, such as workers at the IRS who perform tasks essential to tax filing season.

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