A new report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provided a snapshot of 24 Cabinet or Cabinet-rank agencies’ policies and plans to bring workers back to the offices.
Agencies’ re-entry plans varied greatly depending on local and state conditions, but they are generally doing better in complying with health and safety directives compared with last year.
In their initial plans, several agencies were struggling to follow federal health and safety guidance. Several agencies, for example, either did not require mask-wearing in all locations or did not require mask-wearing at all. Many agencies did not describe how they improved their office ventilation. Most agencies did not describe policies that ensured that employees who raised health and safety concerns would not face retaliation. Nearly half of all agencies did not provide training to employees on reentry processes and the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
But after the Biden administration established the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force in January 2021 to provide guidance and a workplace safety checklist, their updated re-entry plans were a lot more consistent with federal health and safety directives.
All 24 agencies, for example, have improved ventilation and air filtration. All 24 agencies required face masks and physical distancing. All agencies advised those with COVID symptoms to notify supervisors and leave the workplace. All but one limit workplace capacity to 25%.
All agencies have also established COVID-19 coordination teams to develop and monitor agency plans.
“Initial reentry guidance did not include clear oversight roles and responsibilities. As a result, there was no government-wide oversight or review of initial agency reentry plans,” said the watchdog. “Guidance issued in January 2021 established model safety principles and specific roles for the Task Force, directing Task Force members to guide and oversee agency COVID-19 workplace safety efforts. This increased clarity and oversight and supported consistency in workplace safety planning.”