Acting too soon would endanger residents, they say.
The heads of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., implored the Trump administration not to force federal employees in the capital area to return to their offices before it is safe to do so, saying such a decision could severely harm residents.
The 360,000 federal employees in the region should continue to telework for the time being as cases of the novel coronavirus in the area continue to surge, Govs. Larry Hogan, R-Md., and Ralph Northam, D-Va., and Mayor Muriel Bowser, D-D.C., said in a letter to Office of Personnel Management acting Director Michael Rigas on Thursday. They cited guidance OPM and the Office of Management and Budget released this week that called for agencies to begin thinking of ways to bring employees back to their regular work stations.
“A continued telework policy will help save lives,” the local leaders said. They noted their governments had all made difficult choices to keep city and state employees home. “This is a hard balancing act between ensuring the continuation of critical government functions and ensuring the safety and well-being of employees,” they wrote in their letter. “But we know that the Trump administration can similarly make these appropriate judgments, and we hope the federal telework posture is reflective of our own local operating statuses.”
D.C., Maryland and Virginia have all operated with “stay at home orders” since the beginning of April.
In their memorandum, OMB and OPM left decisions on when to reopen their offices to agency leaders based on local conditions. They advised agencies to follow state mandates and individual leaders will maintain significant discretion on when to take a variety of steps. Much of the memo spelled out policies that agencies could or may take, without prescribing specific timelines or actions.
“Given the diversity of federal workforce missions, geographic locations and the needs of individuals within the workforce itself, this transition will require continued diligence and flexibility from federal agencies and the federal workforce,” OMB and OPM said.
The administration appeared to suggest employees should continue teleworking now as their jobs allow, but “as conditions change, agency heads should revisit telework policies and agreements in order to continue progressing to normal operations.” In additional guidance released Thursday, OPM said agencies will rely heavily on the advice of local health officials on when to reopen but "OPM, in consultation with the Department of Justice, has determined that none of the orders issued to date restrict the ability of federal employees and contractors from any travel necessary to perform official functions."
The governors and mayor pleaded with the administration not to make any decisions that prematurely override their own orders.
“We encourage the administration to help ensure the safety of the federal workforce and our residents as we work together to fight this pandemic,” they wrote. “Failure to do so could lead to a rise in cases and delay our ability to re-open the region.”