Messages on how to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, are displayed at the mouth of the Manhattan Bridge on Monday.

Messages on how to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, are displayed at the mouth of the Manhattan Bridge on Monday. John Minchillo/AP

White House Releases Coronavirus Guidance for Federal Contractors 

Directive comes as the Defense Department announced a contractor died over the weekend.

The Trump administration released coronavirus guidance for federal contractors on Friday night, encouraging agencies to maximize telework and offer other work flexibilities for federal contractors. 

The Office of Management of Budget sent a memo to agency and department heads after requests from many trade associations that represent federal contractors, in order to ensure continuity of operations, as Nextgov first reported. A day after the guidance came out, a Defense contractor in Virginia died after testing positive for coronavirus, the Defense Department announced on Sunday. This is the first contractor death reported in the United States.

“Federal contractors play a vital role in helping agencies meet the needs of our citizens, including the critical response efforts to COVID-19,” wrote OMB Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert. “The health and safety of all Americans, including our federal contractors, remains a top priority. This memorandum identifies steps to help ensure this safety while maintaining continued contract performance in support of agency missions, wherever possible.”

OMB called for agencies to maximize telework. If remote work is not possible or contractors cannot perform duties due to coronavirus-related matters, then agencies should provide extensions for performance dates, the guidance said. Weichert also directed agencies to consider if contractor personnel or services could be used for “activities the agency deems critical to national security or other high priorities.” 

Lastly, the guidance encouraged agencies to use the special procurement authorities from the president’s declaration of a national emergency that invoked the 1988 Stafford Act for emergency assistance. This includes “increases to the micro-purchase threshold, the simplified acquisition threshold, and the threshold for using simplified procedures for certain commercial items,” said Weichert. “All of which are designed to reduce friction for contractors, especially small businesses, and the government.” However she noted, such flexibilities will not always be suitable and “agencies should exercise sound fiscal prudence to maximize value for each tax dollar spent.”  

The guidance also includes a list of frequently asked questions on telework, procurement flexibilities, and tracking spending and work performance. Weichert said the agency will update and add guidance as needed. 

The Professional Services Council, a trade association that represents over 400 companies that contract with the federal government, called on OMB to issue such guidance last week. “PSC welcomes this timely and comprehensive OMB memo and thanks Margaret Weichert for promulgating it,” the association tweeted on Saturday. 

Weichert said in February she planned to leave the administration in March to return to the private sector, but then said during an interview with Government Matters on Friday that she is delaying her departure to help with the coronavirus response. “I wanted to make sure there was a consistent transition and that a lot of the infrastructure supporting command and control of cross-agency activities continued,” she said.