Chief Christiansen - Rising to the occasion
March 25, 2020
Link to PDF version of letter.
Link to PDF version of letter.
As we closed out a busy and difficult week last week and as we begin a new reality dealing with the disruptiveness of coronavirus, I’d like to take a moment to tell you how proud I am to work alongside each and every one of you.
In the face of uncertainty and fear, you have all pulled together—field office by field office, state by state, agency by agency—as OneUSDA.
It hasn’t been easy, but the process has been made better by working together with our USDA family. Employees across the country have stepped up and voiced their commitment to continue the mission, even while in many cases it means being creative and adjusting how we work to accomplish the mission.
And these efforts have been critical because we still have a job to do.
Our mission remains the same, even if the way we accomplish it looks—and feels—different. We’ll be picking up the phone more and conducting meetings virtually. And for things you have to do in person, you need to forgo the handshake, practice social distancing and perhaps meet across the truck bed with a customer on his or her farm or ranch.
But none of this alters the fact we still have to do our mission. We have to think through our processes and procedures more than we ever have before.
So my charge to you is to think creatively and “out of the box” to redesign our processes. On your conference calls, contribute your voice during this time of change, challenge your colleagues and supervisors to also come up with ways we still support our customers during this time, even if it means changing how we currently do business.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security and federal partners, including USDA, issued guidance about workers in critical industries.
This guidance says that when state and local governments are issuing rules to protect public health, they need to ensure certain workers can keep doing their jobs because it’s important to our national security.
The Food and Agriculture sector is one of those critical industries, because Americans are depending on our food supply chain remaining efficient and plentiful.
And you are a crucial part of that. Farmers rely on us to deliver our mission so they can deliver theirs: to feed America.
We have a part to play in our food supply—whether you’re a loan officer or food safety inspector.
Together, we must continue to serve the American public during this stressful time we are all going through, and be flexible and creative on how we accomplish our mission.
So today, I want to thank you. First for your patience as we all waded into uncharted territory together. Second for your diligence in ensuring both you and your colleagues were supported during this time. And last for your commitment to our USDA motto to “Do Right and Feed Everyone,” because in the face of fear, you choose to do right so that we can continue to feed Americans across the country.
You should know: our farmers are thankful, and Americans are thankful.
So, we are all in this together. Now, let’s get to work—some in traditional ways, and often in new creative ways.
Thank you all for your service,
Deputy Secretary Censky
I know you have many questions. We are doing our best to get you the information you need, when you need it. There is a lot going on, and it’s changing quickly from day-to-day, and even hourly. I ask for your understanding as we navigate through a situation that is unique and dynamic.
Watch Chief Christiansen’s video for the latest information.
Watch Secretary Perdue's video for his full message.
Pandemic information changes rapidly. Refer to the USDA Be Prepared site for the latest specific guidance.
We recognize there is a high level of concern about the COVID-19, or coronavirus, outbreak. I’m incredibly proud of your efforts to continue our important and critical mission to “Do Right and Feed Everyone” while we work through the USDA response to this rapidly evolving situation. As you know, areas across the country have confirmed cases of community spread of COVID-19, and many states have declared states of emergency.
Just as all of us are depending on millions of Americans to keep producing and processing our food, supplying our power and water, providing healthcare, and delivering important services, the American people also are expecting all of us at USDA to keep delivering our services. We have been actively working to balance delivery of our services to the American people with protection of our employees.
As such, we have made the decision to update our telework guidance, consistent with guidance released on March 15, 2020 from the Office of Management and Budget to maximize the use of teleworking to promote social distancing to decrease and slow down the spread of COVID-19.
USDA is working to maximize the use of telework without interrupting customer service and with a focus on maintaining the safest, most affordable food supply in the world. USDA offices should remain open and operational for the delivery of services. If an office or program requires in-person work, Mission Areas are developing plans to maintain that continuity or make back up plans for that continuity.
In keeping with the need to ensure mission continuity and the continued delivery of USDA’s services to the American people, supervisors at facilities in locations with documented community spread of COVID-19 have been authorized to develop plans for maximizing telework for telework-eligible employees beginning on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 through Friday, April 3, 2020. This includes the National Capital Region, Washington State, California Bay area, and New York City area where all USDA offices will remain open and operational even as we move to maximize the use of telework. This timing will be assessed continually as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
Similarly, supervisors at all other locations/states have been authorized to develop plans for telework for telework-eligible employees beginning on Thursday, March 19, 2020 through Friday, April 3, 2020.
Again, the continued delivery of our services to the American people must be maintained as supervisors make decisions on maximizing telework, and USDA offices are to remain open. Due to the diversity of USDA’s operations and the services we deliver, many employees will need to continue to report to work to perform functions that cannot be performed remotely, and some employees may be able to work from home several days a week, but not every day, due to our service responsibilities. In granting expanded telework, supervisors should ensure the ability to maintain mission continuity and services.
While supervisors are authorized to maximize telework as outlined above, any changes that would impact the operational status of a facility or impact the services delivered (e.g., complete closure of a USDA facility or reduction in services provided) must be requested and approved before implementation following the Playbook that was provided to agencies on March 10, 2020. This is to ensure that USDA can continue to best serve our customers in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
This guidance will not change the Visitor and Food Service Guidance issued on Friday, March 13, 2020. USDA facilities should remain open, as it may be that many employees will not be able to telework in some locations in order to ensure mission-critical functions and services can continue. As such, USDA facilities, pursuant to the Visitor and Food Service Guidance, should limit visitors to mission-critical, essential and time-sensitive visits only by scheduling and screening visitors, to the extent possible in order to protect our employees.
Employees who are telework eligible, but not telework ready, should gather necessary equipment and materials to become telework ready. Weather and Safety leave is not authorized for employees who are not at higher risk of COVID-19, who are not telework eligible (even after telework is maximized), or are eligible but have declined to telework in USDA locations that remain open. The flexibilities for USDA employees impacted by school closures or who are at higher risk of COVID-19 announced last week will continue. In addition, supervisors may grant Weather and Safety Leave to employees who are at a higher risk for COVID-19 and who are not telework eligible (even after telework is maximized) in alignment with OMB guidance.
Employees in the National Capital Region, Washington State, California Bay area, and New York City area can expect to hear from their Mission Area/Agency by the evening of Monday, March 16, 2020 on the telework plans of their Mission Area and/or Agency.
Employees in all other locations can expect to hear from their Mission Area/Agency by the evening of Wednesday, March 18, 2020 on the telework plans of their Mission Area and/or Agency.
Previously scheduled telework capacity tests are cancelled except for the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area, which is still scheduled for Monday, March 16, 2020.
An employee in the South Building informed us that on Sunday, March 15, 2020 the employee received a positive test result for coronavirus. The employee has not been in the office since Wednesday, March 11th. The employee’s office is located on the second floor, sixth wing of our South building. Effective Sunday, March 15th, we have closed the second floor, sixth wing to business. Employees with offices on the second floor of the sixth wing have begun teleworking. This is to ensure the health and safety of our employees while continuing the effectiveness of our Department’s mission. We have requested that the office suite and affected bathrooms be closed and deep cleaned in accordance with CDC guidance.
We appreciate your service to USDA and to our customers during this time, and thank you for your patience as we work together.
We will continue to provide you with updates and reliable information as we have it.
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture
Office of Personnel Management: COVID-19 FAQs
OPM shared guidance and frequently asked questions related to coronavirus on March 7.
Send additional questions about COVID-19 preparations through Ask USDA.
Our number one priority is the well-being of our OneUSDA family, which is why I want to provide you with an update on what USDA is doing for our employees. Coronavirus has raised a lot of questions when it comes to how the virus may affect us and affect our work. We share and understand your concerns.
Please review the additional guidance in the attached and pasted below mitigation memo. For further information, please go to USDA’s Be Prepared website for coronavirus. This website has direct links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and State Department guidance for travel. We recognize that the best way to be ready is to be in the know. That is why we are committed to keeping you updated on any future plans or guidance. We will be communicating with mission leaders and supervisors consistently to ensure they have up to date information on preparedness plans. They will help to disseminate information as it pertains to things like official travel and contingency plans for how USDA would operate if we are directly impacted by an outbreak.
As we continue forward, we appreciate your commitment to our mission here at USDA and your patience as we work together. We will provide you with updates and reliable information as we have it.
Thank you for your service to USDA and our customers,
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture
Link to PDF version of letter.