The White House on Thursday lifted a cap on employees working in federal buildings and directed agencies to prepare plans to allow employees to return to work in-person.
The move is the latest sign of conditions in Washington returning to normal as more and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo sent to agency heads directs them to complete plans for “reentry” by July 19 that detail when and how an increased number of employees can return to in-person work.
“Agency plans for reentry and post-reentry should be informed by lessons learned during the past 15 months. The agency’s eventual post-pandemic operating state may differ in significant ways from the agency’s pre-pandemic operating state,” the OMB memo states.
The new guidance lifts a previous cap limiting the number of people in federal workplaces to 25 percent of normal capacity, though agencies’ COVID-19 health safety plans remain in place and employees are still allowed broad discretion to work from home. The federal government’s operating status remains “Open with maximum telework flexibilities,” it says.
The memo sent Thursday directs agencies to satisfy all applicable collective-bargaining obligations before telling employees to return to work and to give “ample notice” – at least 30 days – to employees who are supposed to return to in-person work, meaning that return to normal operations will not happen immediately.
The new policy sets in motion a return to in-person work of troves of federal government employees who have been fulfilling their jobs remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, it gives federal agencies the ability to keep in place flexible telework policies.
The White House has already begun to loosen restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, allowing vaccinated employees to go without masks on the complex. Federal employees who are fully vaccinated are also not required to wear face masks.
The White House briefing room returned to full capacity this week, after more than a year of restrictions on journalists working in-person.
The White House has invited all employees back to work in July.
The Biden administration is encouraging, but not requiring, federal employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“At present, COVID-19 vaccination should generally not be a precondition for employees or contractors at agencies to work in-person in Federal buildings, on Federal lands, and in other settings as required by their job duties,” the OMB memo sent Thursday says. “Federal employees and contractors may voluntarily share information about their vaccination status, but agencies should not require Federal employees or contractors to disclose such information.”
Currently, about 64 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine and more than half are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).