April 30, 2020

Wyden Presses Feds to Protect Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic

Oregon senator joins with 21 colleagues to urge maximizing telework across federal agencies

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden today asked federal officials for information on their efforts to protect federal workers in Oregon and nationwide during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a letter with 21 colleagues to the federal Offices of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Wyden and the senators sought information on efforts to ensure that agencies maximize telework across their workforce as a way to keep federal workers safe.

"As the number of coronavirus cases and the number of deaths -- including deaths of federal employees -- continue to rise, it is imperative that all federal employees are appropriately protected, and have assurance that their safety will take precedence and be the highest priority in decisions about when and how they return to their job sites," the senators wrote OMB and OPM, the two agencies tasked with managing human resources across the federal government.

The letter comes after OMB and OPM issued a memo last week directing federal agencies to "incorporate" Donald Trump's Opening Up America Again guidelines "into agency workplace protocols," and encouraging federal agencies "to allow Federal employees and contractors to return to the office in low-risk areas." Public health experts have expressed serious concerns about these guidelines and warned there is still not sufficient testing, tracing, or personal protective equipment to know where, and when it is safe to relax social distancing and quarantine guidelines.

"In the face of this pandemic, your agencies should take aggressive and ongoing measures, as recommended by public health experts, to protect federal workers and prevent the deadly spread of COVID-19," the senators continued. "Additionally, this crisis has demonstrated the clear ability of a great many federal workers to work remotely via telework and has therefore renewed questions regarding why this Administration has restricted effective, efficient, and-as this moment demonstrates-beneficial telework for federal workers."

To address their concerns, the senators asked OPM and OMB to answer their questions by May 8, 2020.

In addition to Wyden, others signing the letter led by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Gary C. Peters (D-Mich.), included Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus S. King, Jr. (I-Maine), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)