U.S. National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service personnel unwrap the General Sherman giant sequoia tree during the KNP Complex Fire on Oct. 22, 2021 in Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California.

U.S. National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service personnel unwrap the General Sherman giant sequoia tree during the KNP Complex Fire on Oct. 22, 2021 in Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California. PATRICK T. FALLON / Getty Images

Agencies spell out how climate change will affect their employees and what they’ll do to protect them

The Biden administration is looking to protect federal workers and agency missions in the fact of extreme weather.

The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled agency-specific plans to protect federal employees from the risks posed by climate change, which follow an edict by the president to ensure government operations are resilient to more extreme weather. 

The plans range from updating federal buildings to better communicating with employees when they are at risk. They include detailed projections of which agency personnel are most vulnerable and where they are located, as well as specific proposals to ensure their protection. The blueprints are updates to those agencies first put forward in 2021 following an executive order calling for them that Biden issued in his first days in office. 

The new plans cover 2024 through 2027 and were created by each agency in coordination with the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality and its Office of Management and Budget. The updated documents include projections on assets’ exposure to extreme heat, sea level rise, wildfire and other factors impacted by climate change. Forthcoming actions will include retrofitting and upgrading federal buildings for climate risks and changing the way federal lands and waters are managed. 

Each agency has included resiliency efforts into their core mission focus, the White House said, which is reflected in their policies, programs and budget formulations. The Veterans Affairs Department, for example, is modeling how the effects of climate change will impact the care veterans will need in the future. The Agriculture Department’s Forest Service is updating its land management practices to adapt to a changing climate, while the State Department is updating its foreign assistance offerings to ensure recipients include climate considerations. 

“With more than 300,000 buildings, four million employees, 640 million acres of public land, and $700 billion in annual purchases of goods and services, the federal government must continue to be a leader and partner in advancing adaptation and resilience,” the White House said. 

Agencies are also factoring climate change into their daily operations, including how they will impact their employees. CEQ worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, to create maps that demonstrate where concentrations of federal employees are likely to be exposed to extreme levels of precipitation, heat, sea level rise, wildfire and flooding. To protect employees, the Labor Department has provided guidance for agencies to take when those dangerous conditions arise. 

Agencies across government laid out specific mission and personnel impacts from climate change in various scenarios. The Agriculture Department found that by 2050, 97% of its employees are likely to be in duty stations with temperatures in the 99th percentile of those seen between 1976 and 2005.

At the Food Safety Inspection Service, for example, climate change could impact the way foodborne pathogens spread through animals, while also posing a risk to employees' health and safety and the workloads they undertake. Forest Service employees will see more physical and mental strain due to increased extreme heat and wildfires, while Rural Development staff will require new expertise as they handle an uptick in recovery efforts. 

In response to those concerns, USDA components are developing a plan to manage employee-related climate risk, rolling out guidance to personnel on preventing heat-stress illness and launching an emergency communication system for field staff. 

In its plan, the Energy Department noted it is “considering how to keep workplaces safe for employees during extreme weather events.” Several department sites are enhancing their communication systems to better alert employees about climate hazards at their workplaces, while others are boosting their air filtration systems to keep employees safe when there are wildfires in the area. 

The Homeland Security Department, meanwhile, has issued extreme heat guidance to its Customs and Border Protection workforce. It is making its buildings more climate resilient by upgrading their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and building redundant water supplies. 

The General Services Administration is better integrating flood risk information into its management of federally owned buildings, while the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to assess the long-term viability of its facilities located in places likely to see severe flooding. 

Federal agencies are simultaneously implementing Biden's Federal Sustainability Plan to make federal agency operations entirely carbon-neutral by 2050.