House GOP demands info on Biden’s implementation of vaccine mandate for feds
A subcommittee is probing several agencies to look for "wrongdoing by government officials" during the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees is no longer in effect, but House Republicans are still looking for answers on how agencies implemented it and who felt its impact.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, sent inquiries to several agencies, including the Office of Personnel Management, as part of an investigation into several of Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The probes, Wenstrup said, would help inform congressional actions in future pandemics.
Biden revoked the vaccine mandate earlier this year, though it was no longer being enforced after it was blocked by a federal appellate court. His administration is now appealing that decision to the Supreme Court, looking to preserve White House authorities to issue federal workforce-wide requirements in the future.
Wenstrup gave OPM Director Kiran Ahuja two weeks to provide information and documents related to the drafting of the executive order that created the mandate and subsequent enforcement memoranda. The request included information related to OPM’s internal communications, discussions between OPM and the White House and advice received from medical professionals and unions. The panel is looking for information related to the revocation of the mandate, as well as the number of employees who received exemptions and the number who faced disciplinary action for non-compliance.
A district court enjoined the mandate before most agencies began instituting disciplinary action, though many were on the precipice of doing so. The Biden administration has said 98% of federal employees came into compliance with the mandate, including about 5% who requested a religious or medical exemption.
Wenstrup sent separate, similar inquiries to the departments of Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services. Defense issued mandates for members of the military, Labor for employees at large private businesses and HHS for staff at health care facilities.
“The mandate forced DOD civilians and armed service members to comply with taking the COVID-19 vaccine or risk adverse personnel actions to include termination and separation respectively,” the chairman said in his letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, adding 17,000 service members did not receive the vaccine and half of those have been discharged. “This raises serious concerns regarding the vaccine mandate’s effect on military readiness.”
A Defense Department spokesperson said: "As with all correspondences, the department will respond to members’ requests.” OPM, the Labor Department and HHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The subcommittee suggested that while none of the mandates are still in effect, they continue to have “long-lasting ramifications.” The investigation, it said, would uncover any potential wrongdoing by government officials. Republicans have criticized the mandates since they were first implemented, saying the government should not interfere with private medical decisions.
The Biden administration is currently seeking to prevent a wider, precedent-setting ruling that would rewrite presidential authorities by instead having the Supreme Court dismiss the case as no longer relevant. Administration officials told the court the president has long had the power to set policy regarding the conduct of federal employees and that civil servants must make their grievances according to the procedures spelled out in the Civil Service Reform Act. The justices have not yet decided whether to take the case.