Inspector General: EPA Reopening Plans Lack Consistency in Health & Safety Measures

Categories: EPA, The Insider, Coronavirus

A new report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General (IG) found that the EPA’s reopening plans and each office’s safety measures are inconsistent and need to be improved to make sure employees are safe. 

EPA closed its facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic with most employees working remotely to continue their mission. EPA Headquarters and 9 of the 10 regional offices are currently in Phase 2, which means telework is encouraged if feasible with business operations. But the agency is poised to potentially move to Phase 3 very soon. In Phase 3, the agency will require employees to come back into agency office buildings regardless of whether their work is public facing.  

AFGE has repeatedly voiced our concerns over this reopening plan. The AFGE Council 238’s locals representing 7,500 EPA employees nationwide in October voted that they have “no confidence” in the EPA leadership, including Administrator Andrew Wheeler, and their plan to reopen offices during the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected 14 million people and killed more than 270,000 in the U.S. with cases still rising across the country. The IG’s report confirms what we have been saying all along.  

“Providing a safe working environment for employees returning to their physical work locations is a significant challenge facing the EPA,” the IG said. “Although the location-specific reopening plans we reviewed incorporate elements of the CDC’s interim guidance, the specific health and safety measures outlined in the plans often vary. While some differences in the reopening plans could be warranted based on local conditions, the EPA should ensure that such differences do not place employees at an increased risk of contracting or spreading the COVID-19 disease merely as a result of their work location.”  

The inconsistent health and safety measures identified by the IG involve:  

  • Face coverings
  • Social distancing
  • Ventilation systems
  • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • Interaction with visitors and non-EPA employees
  • Public transportation.

Not all EPA offices require face coverings in common areas, for example. While 11 of the 13 reopening plans require face coverings, 10 of them do not discuss how the requirement will be enforced. Only 1 reopening plan (the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina) specifically addresses how it will enforce its face covering mandate. 

Of the 13 reopening plans, only three plans (Regions 2,8, and 9) mention an increase in the frequency of cleaning of high-touch areas. Others just mention they will disinfect the areas. Even those that increase the frequency of cleaning do not detail how or specify how often. 

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