AFGE president testifies before House Homeland Security Committee
WASHINGTON – The federal government will further the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic by rushing to reopen federal worksites without ensuring safety protocols are in place to protect workers and the public, the head of the largest federal employee union told Congress today.
Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee, American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said there is “no excuse” for exposing workers to the pandemic in a rush to reopen the Department of Homeland Security or other federal agencies.
“The vast majority of DHS’s workforce are front-line, ‘essential’ employees who have been at their regular duty stations throughout the pandemic,” Kelley said in his prepared statement. “Taking the necessary steps to protect them – universal testing, strict social distancing, provision of adequate Personal Protective Equipment – might at one point have been impossible due to insufficient supplies. But today there is no excuse.”
On April 22, just two days after the administration issued governmentwide guidance on reopening federal worksites, Kelley sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought detailing AFGE’s six preconditions for reopening worksites and warning of a rushed reopening. OMB has yet to respond.
“It is now nine weeks later and in states that reopened too early such as Texas and Florida, the data are showing a resurgence of the pandemic. We are not seeing, however, a reversion to ‘stay at home’ directives that are supposed to precede any reopening,” Kelley said.
In addition to sharing concerns about a rushed reopening, Kelley also called for Congress to approve an emergency supplemental appropriation for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is threatening to furlough more than 70% of its workforce beginning Aug. 3 due to a budget shortfall partly related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Furloughs of this magnitude would make it entirely impossible for the agency to carry out more than a tiny fraction of its mission,” Kelley said. “With a loss of nearly three-fourths of its workforce, work, student and visitor visa petitions, asylum and citizenship/naturalization applications, green cards, and refugee applications will not be processed.”
Kelley said the emergency appropriation should be approved on the condition that no employees will be furloughed.