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Coronavirus Roundup: EPA’s Back-to-the-Office Plan; More Data on Vaccine Mandate

There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

Janet McCabe, deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, sent an email to all staff last Thursday, obtained by Government Executive, outlining the “future of work” at the agency. “Senior political leadership will begin physically reporting November 22, joining the federal employees and on-site contractor personnel who are already physically reporting to EPA offices and laboratories,” said the email. “For bargaining unit employees, we are in the process of discussing with our union partners the details of transitioning out of maximum telework.” For non-bargaining unit employees, “we are announcing a ‘no sooner than date,’ of January 3, 2022, to begin reentry to the workplace.” 

McCabe said the country is “in the midst of a radical change in how people in and out of government think about and do their work.” She promised future communications from EPA management on new telework policies, along with remote work application forms and instructions for work schedule changes. EPA did not have any additional comment on the email. 

Government Executive spoke with one employee who cast doubt on the statement that EPA employees have actually been going into workplaces. The employee also raised concerns about employees commuting in areas with high or substantial transmission rates.

Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed: 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated in a briefing Monday that the Biden administration isn’t concerned about losing federal employees due to the vaccine mandate. “I will say, it's 95% compliance...which means there are exemptions,” she said. “That percentage is actually consistent with a number of states that have implemented vaccine requirements as well. So, as we've said a number of times, we don't see this as a cliff.” 

Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, shared agency rates of compliance with the vaccine mandate during the Covid-19 briefing on Monday, ahead of the full release on Wednesday. “We have 98% compliance at the IRS, with nearly 25% of IRS employees getting vaccinated after the resident announced the requirement. At the FBI, 99% compliance,” he said. “And we're well set up for the holiday travel season, with nearly 98% compliance at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 93% at TSA, and 99% at the FAA.” He added, “for the small percentage of employees who have not yet complied, agencies are beginning the education and counseling process.” 

Onsite verification of vaccination status will not be required for federal employees or employees of federal contractors entering General Services Administration-controlled buildings, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force said in updated guidance released on Nov. 19. Visitors entering such facilities aren’t required to be vaccinated, but must present a form to the security officers before entering and follow certain workforce safety protocols if they are not vaccinated or refuse to answer. 

The updated guidance also says that GSA facility managers will form security committees to discuss building entry protocols for visitors. Such protocols will be implemented on a facility-by-facility basis.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that “we might modify the guidelines” for what it means to be fully vaccinated to include booster shots. “That's what we have been saying all along by ‘follow the science.’ Things change, and you have to follow the data.”

The Marine Corps is on track to be the least-vaccinated military service, The Washington Post reported on Sunday. “While 94% of Marine Corps personnel have met the vaccination requirement or are on a path to do so, according to the latest official data, for the remainder it is too late to begin a regimen and complete it by the service’s Nov. 28 deadline,” said the report. 

Most of the companies that do business with the federal government through the types of contracts that GSA administers agreed to implement the vaccine mandate for federal contractors, Federal News Network reported on Friday. As of last week, “the overwhelming majority of the 12,000 companies who do business with the government via the GSA schedules have agreed to implement the mandate. 95% of those firms have signed contract modifications to add a clause implementing the mandate for their own workforces,” said the report. “And across the broader portfolio of other types of contracts GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service administers, the figure is 91%, said Mark Lee, FAS’s assistant commissioner for policy and compliance.” 

The Food and Drug Administration told a court last week it needs about 55 years to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the approval of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, Politico reported on Monday.

Biden’s vaccine coordinator, Bechara Choucair, stepped down on Monday, Politico also reported on Monday. Also, Carole Johnson, Biden’s testing coordinator, is planning to leave her post to become director of the Health and Human Service Department’s Health Resources and Services Administration, and Gayle Smith, the State Department’s global Covid-19 coordinator, is leaving at the end of the month, according to Politico

Rep. James Clyburn, chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, announced on Monday he’s asking Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Trump and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, for an interview and documents about the pandemic response. “Our investigations have found that the Trump administration engaged in a persistent pattern of political interference in the pandemic response and took actions that allowed the virus to spread in an attempt to advance former President Trump’s electoral prospects,” wrote Clyburn in a letter to Hahn. “The Select Subcommittee seeks to understand the full extent of Trump administration officials’ efforts to interfere with FDA’s authorization of coronavirus vaccines, President Trump’s unrelenting pressure campaign directed towards FDA and you personally, and how these events may have impacted FDA’s work in this area.”

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 3:15p.m. 

Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information, concerns, etc. about how your agency is handling the coronavirus? Email us at newstips@govexec.com.

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