A House Panel Overwhelmingly Advanced Legislation to Protect Federal Workers During Pandemics
The Chai Suthammanont Healthy Federal Workplaces Act would require federal agencies to develop and publish workplace safety plans to prepare for future pandemics.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday advanced by voice vote legislation aimed at protecting federal workers and agency operations during future pandemics.
The Chai Suthammanont Healthy Federal Workplaces Act (H.R. 8466), introduced by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., is the third iteration of a bill requiring federal agencies to develop and publish workplace safety plans for use in the event of a pandemic and is named after a constituent of the Northern Virginia lawmaker who died of COVID-19 after working at a federal facility.
The first version of the bill, which would have required agency workplace safety plans specifically related to COVID-19, passed the House in 2020, but failed to advance in the Senate. The bill was reintroduced in February 2021, but it did not receive a vote on the House floor.
Connolly’s latest crack at the legislation makes the bill more forward-looking, requiring agencies to develop workplace safety plans for current and future pandemics, not just COVID-19, and to make them publicly accessible. Like its predecessors, the bill also requires agency inspectors general to report to Congress on the plans’ implementation, and it requires a report from the Government Accountability Office on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to inform future safety protocols.
“The tragic and infuriating reality is that Chai’s death could have been avoided,” Connolly said. “If the federal government had a plan in place when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Chai may still be alive today. We must learn from this and other losses and ensure that the health and safety of the civil servants whom the American people rely on every single day is prioritized—refusing to do so would be a disservice to Chai’s memory.”
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., offered an amendment to the bill that he said would ensure workplace safety plans would also include continuity of operations, so that agency services continue amid a future public health crisis. The amendment also was approved by voice vote.
“Unfortunately, we just came out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the focus as far as agencies are concerned has been on permanently increasing the levels of telework and remote working arrangements, but the truth is we need to have a thorough scrub of how agencies’ missions have been impacted by COVID,” Hice said. “In preparing for future health emergencies, employee safety is a key concern, but so is mission accomplishment. The plans this bill calls for must also be made through the lens of maintaining operations and minimizing impacts to customer service.”
Connolly endorsed the amendment before its passage.
“I completely agree that we need to be mission focused,” he said. “We’ve got to protect the workforce, but we also have to provide continuity of operations. We have to figure that out.”
The bill now moves to the House floor for consideration by the entire chamber. A similar bill in the Senate has yet to receive a committee hearing or markup.