At Least One Major Agency Is Still Testing Unvaxxed Feds, Defying White House Policy
The Defense Department says it is still trying to figure out how to implement the new policy within its unique workforce.
The Biden administration last week instructed agencies to stop their testing programs aimed at employees not vaccinated against COVID-19, though some are still not in compliance.
Agencies were told to implement the new, no-testing-based-on-vaccination-status policy by Monday at the latest, but some employees were still required to take a test on Wednesday because they have not gotten their shots. The issue was apparent at the Defense Department, which said it was still sorting out how to implement the White House’s guidance. The update came from President Biden’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which made the changes to align the federal government with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The Department of Defense is currently reviewing the CDC guidelines and how they will apply to the department,” said Maj. Charlie Dietz, a Pentagon spokesperson. “DoD is unique among federal agencies, both for its specific blend of workforce, comprised of uniformed military, civilian employees, and contractor personnel, as well as the operational requirements of that workforce.”
Dietz added that Defense will continue to evaluate the guidance and craft its own that “best protects the department and its people, while meeting our unique national security mission,” and the department will update its workforce, the public and other stakeholders when it decides how to implement the changes in the future.
The department’s ongoing testing policy, active at least at some facilities, appeared to contradict the task force’s guidance.
As soon as possible and no later than Aug. 22, the policy stated, “agencies must stop implementing any COVID-19 serial screening testing programs and any point-in-time screening testing requirements that differentiate among individuals based on their COVID-19 vaccination status.”
The task force carved out exceptions for federal sites such as nursing homes, correctional facilities and homeless shelters, but those did not include the types of offices maintained by the Pentagon. The guidance also required that any ongoing testing be administered to all employees, regardless of vaccination status. One Defense civilian told Government Executive he and his unvaccinated colleagues were tested on both Monday and Wednesday.
“We’re all frustrated,” the employee said.
As of November, when the White House last released updated data, 93% of Defense civilian and military employees were vaccinated. Biden's mandate that all federal employees either receive the vaccine or a medical or religious exemption is currently paused, pending the outcome of a lawsuit before a federal appeals court.
Other agencies have shifted their approach to match the administration’s new policy. At NASA, for example, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer sent a notice to employees that it will no longer ask employees, contractors or visitors about their vaccination status, nor would unvaccinated individuals be tested upon entering the agency's buildings.
“Due to the decreasing risk posed by COVID-19—propelled by high vaccination rates and better medical treatments—CDC recently updated their guidance and recommendations for COVID-19 risk, prevention steps, post-exposure precautions, and actions to take when individuals are sick or test positive for the virus,” the agency said, noting it was updating its policies in conjunction with the changes.