OMB tells agencies to ‘minimize’ face-to-face interactions, focus on ‘mission-critical’ work

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The Office of Management and Budget is telling agencies to minimize face-to-face interactions at government offices and sites as it begins to coordinate critical resources to slow transmission of COVID-19.

Mission-critical public health and law enforcement functions aside, operations and services that can’t be performed remotely “may be postponed or curtailed,” Russell Vought, acting director of OMB, wrote in a memo issued Tuesday night.

The memo gives agency heads leeway to limit employees and teams to “higher priority” work.

“This aggressive posture may affect government operations as agencies work to balance the needs of mission-critical work and greater social distancing,” Vought wrote.

Agencies are directed to encourage the public to delay transactions that aren’t time-sensitive while being transparent about any reductions in services and accepting feedback.

The memo reinforces “The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America” released Monday, as well as the national emergency declaration.

In maximizing and even mandating telework when necessary for employees and contractors, agencies must now assess how transportation limitations will impact service delivery and consider waiving approval processes for critical services, according to the memo.

Agencies have 48 hours from the memo’s issuance to revise and implement risk-based policies and procedures, though the order stops short of activating their continuity of operations plans.

“Ensure agency policies and procedures restrict individuals infected with, or at higher risk for serious illness from, COVID-19 from accessing federal facilities, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, as well as the Privacy Act of 1974, and other legal requirements,” reads the memo. “These agency policies must specifically include considerations not only for federal employees, but also for contractors and visitors while balancing the needs to perform mission critical functions.”

The directive is the most aggressive guidance issued yet on the operating status of the federal government to combat the spread of the coronavirus. With many federal employees already working remotely, at the urging of OMB Sunday night, agencies are scrambling to ensure the workforce has the bandwidth and tools needs to complete work.

This latest order will likely put added stress on the already challenging situation.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronavirus, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Russell Vought, telework
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