White House to agencies: Get ready to return to offices

By Kelsey Brugger | 04/20/2020 04:17 PM EDT

The White House is tasking agencies with preparing for their employees to return to the office.

The White House is tasking agencies with preparing for their employees to return to the office. Francis Chung/E&E News

This story was updated at 5:43 p.m. EDT.

The White House today outlined a plan to begin sending federal employees back to their offices as the country’s number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.

The memo directs agency heads to create plans that mirror the national plan to reopen society in phases, while taking into account different circumstances in cities and regions throughout the country.


Office of Management and Budget acting Director Russell Vought wrote today that the federal government is "actively planning to ramp back up government operations at the maximum extent possible" following the Trump administration’s "aggressive" response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agencies should take into account local orders and conditions, it added.

"The alignment of phases and operating status of Federal agencies will vary based on conditions in different regions and localities," he wrote. "Agencies are encouraged to allow Federal employees and contractors to return to the office in low-risk areas."

The memo gives agency heads discretion to create individual plans, including telework policies.

"As agencies determine the appropriate operational status for their offices, they must report those decisions to OMB and [the Office of Personnel Management], per forthcoming instructions," Vought wrote. "As appropriate, OMB and OPM will convene agency heads, or their designee, with high populations of employees in similar locations to bring further consistency to regional decisions."

An EPA spokesperson said in an email that "the health and safety of our employees is our top priority. EPA is reviewing the guidance, and will issue Agency specific guidance when complete and implement accordingly."

And a National Park Service spokesperson said via email that "the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service are working on a comprehensive plan to reopen closed facilities, units, and lands when appropriate and in accordance with federal, state and local public health guidance."

The memo adds that OPM will maintain a website tracking the operating status of agencies across the government.

An OMB spokesperson added in an email that President Trump has ensured that the government remains open and essential services continue to be provided to the American public throughout the pandemic.

"Now, as conditions warrant across each state, Federal agencies will be able to return operations to normal. This Administration remains committed to serving the American public," the spokesperson wrote. "Our Federal workers have shown tremendous fortitude in keeping the U.S. strong."

Reporter Rob Hotakainen contributed.