The old adage “You can’t please everyone” certainly applies especially to the still brewing debate over whether to reopen federal offices.
Agencies had until Monday to submit their workforce reintegration plans to the White House for review. The White House set this deadline almost two months ago, when the state of the pandemic was certainly improving.
I am not an epidemiologist, but it seems that things have changed since the beginning of June. Now agencies are submitting reintegration plans in an environment that appears to be different from the one in which they began to draft them.
The back-and-forth we have been doing over the past 16 months with this pandemic continues, and it complicates a long-standing debate over the status of federal offices.
Federal employees, however, have already done this exercise. Agencies released reopening plans in the spring and last summer with phased target dates for employees to return to the office.
In some cases, some feds returned, at least for a little while, until the COVID outbreak in the fall. Others have been working from home all this time. It sparked debate even last summer. For some, the plans to reopen the branches were dangerous. For others, the agencies were moving dangerously slowly to reopen.
Today, agencies are surveying employees, holding listening sessions and discussing the way forward with their unions. They are trying to figure out how to collect information about their employees’ immunization status without prying eyes. Yes, they are trying to reopen, but the approach is different this time.
The Department of Agriculture returned a few hundred employees to its Washington, DC offices last summer as part of its plan to gradually reopen. Not everyone was happy or comfortable.
The USDA told employees on Monday that the earliest it would start gradually reintegrating employees into its offices was October 1, and that is only if the planning and collective bargaining is complete – and that is. sure.
Employees will have at least 45 days’ notice before returning to the office, compared to about two weeks the USDA gave most workers last summer.
Reintegration plans at the agency will be flexible, the USDA said, and employees who return to the office and are eligible can telecommute – up to four days a week.
“Our planning includes considering the supports that employees and supervisors will need to thrive together in our new future, such as training, technology, tools, engagement with each other, and consideration of many real needs that our staff and their families face, from child care to senior care, transportation and more, ”read USDA’s frequently asked questions about her reintegration and future plans. work. “While agency-specific mission needs guide our planning, USDA takes a corporate approach to mission support functions such as information technology, human resources and financial management. This is to ensure that employees performing similar functions in USDA mission areas are treated fairly and equitably. “
I am not saying this to suggest that one approach is better than another. But without a doubt, things are different this time around. And everyone has an opinion on how it’s going.
The Republicans in the House were the most vocal. They are lobbying the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, and the General Service Administration to allow agencies to bring back more feds as soon as possible.
From their perspective, they see the backlog at the National Archives and Records Administration and the field issues of voters struggling to reach the Social Security Administration as reasons to bring employees back… yesterday.
In a letter to the OMB, the OPM and the GSA, 15 House Republicans essentially told agencies to get on with it and avoid negotiations or the promise to give employees at least one ‘s notice. month.
Mask warrants are gone, vaccines are working and infection rates, they wrote on July 16, are “low to non-existent for months.”
Of course, the infection data is changing, leading to new concerns about vaccines, masks and everything in between. Perhaps this is why agencies like the USDA, the Department of Labor and others are setting tentative re-entry dates for the fall, giving the pandemic time to change course.
Not everyone will like these dates, and they could change as agencies juggle their assignments, staff and everything in between.
In recent years, the phrase “people first, mission always” has become popular among human capital leaders in government. Turns out that direction is easier said than done, especially during a global pandemic.
Almost useless factoid
By Alazar Moges
In 1960 at the Olympic Games in Rome, Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila won the 26-mile 200-meter marathon while running barefoot the entire race. He became the first African in Olympic history to win a gold medal.