Coronavirus updates—Here’s what we know
Pandemic coordinator: Forest Service workplace safety updates
We want to ensure our workplace is safe for our employees and customers. While we assist in current efforts, we are also thinking ahead to the 2021 field and fire season. As an adaptive and learning organization we continue to improve on existing guidance and incorporating new information.
The USDA’s COVID-19 workplace safety plan has been posted publicly at: www.usda.gov/coronavirus/workplacesafetyplan and is our guiding document for implementing public health best practices as determined by the Centers for Disease Control. The health and safety of our workforce, contractors, permittees, volunteers and the public is paramount. This new guidance supersedes the USDA Reopening Playbook.
We are developing a plan focused on Forest Service specific mission needs that tiers to the USDA’s COVID-19 workplace safety plan. This will be completed soon and will replace the USFS Guidance and Protocols to Implement the USDA Reopening Playbook. Please continue to review the FAQs on the Forest Service Operation Care and Recovery webpage (internal link). We will create other FAQs on topics of interest and continue to ensure they comply with the latest science-based public health guidelines. To reiterate, this document replaces the existing USDA re-opening playbooks and the USFS Guidance and Protocols to Implementing the USDA Reopening Playbook.
The Forest Service continues to do all we can to support FEMA through the Emergency Support Function requests for COVID-19 support as well as other critical emergency requests such as the historic ice storms and power outages we recently experienced. Our employees are our greatest asset and your continued dedication to service as a core value is to be commended.
USDA: Important COVID-19 workplace safety information
In response to a memorandum issued by the Office of Management and Budget on Jan 24, 2021 (M-21-15), USDA developed a workplace safety plan. The goal of the plan is to guide how mission areas, agencies and staff offices can implement public health best practices as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, it demonstrates a commitment to lead by example and protect the health and safety of federal employees, onsite contractors and their families—as well as visitors to federal buildings—while continuing to deliver for all Americans. This plan has been approved and is now posted publicly here: www.usda.gov/coronavirus/workplacesafetyplan. Our workplace safety plan is an iterative document which will be updated as appropriate based on feedback and new guidance. It is yet another step in this administration’s science-based approach to beat back the virus. We have also generated FAQs regarding COVID-19 vaccines and travel and contact tracing. Moving forward, we will create other topical FAQs on topics of interest and continue to ensure they comply with the latest science-based public health guidelines. Please visit www.usda.gov/coronavirus for more information. Thank you.
**To the extent this policy may constitute a change in a condition of employment for bargaining unit employees, agencies/offices will implement it in accordance with the terms of their current labor agreement and 5 U.S.C. Chapter 71.
USDA: COVID workplace safety required actions
On Jan. 20, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing. The goal of the executive order is to halt the spread of COVID-19 by relying on the best available data and science-based public health measures. These measures include wearing masks, physical distancing and other related precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency that requires a national response by our federal government. Therefore, the Office of the Secretary has determined that this EO and guidance provided by CDC requires all on-duty or on-site USDA employees, on-site USDA contractors and all persons in USDA buildings or on USDA lands to wear face masks, maintain physical distance, and take other public health measures as appropriate, which may include wearing a face shield or other personal protective equipment. USDA managers and supervisors shall take action that is appropriate and consistent with this requirement and, if necessary, with applicable laws to require compliance with these requirements.
Appropriate actions include, but are not limited to:
- Offering maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, consistent with operational needs of the mission areas and staff offices as determined by their heads. In addition, we encourage agencies to use all existing authorities to offer telework to additional employees, to the extent their work could be telework enabled.
- Requiring face masks and maintaining physical distance by all on-duty or on-site USDA employees and on-site USDA contractors. [Note: USDA recognizes that wearing masks may be difficult for some people. If they are unable to wear a mask properly, they should request an accommodation, and adaptations and alternatives must and will be considered. Accommodations will be made for employees with required documentation and should be in accordance with existing USDA and Equal Opportunity Employment Commission guidance.]
- Providing timely access to appropriate PPE to all employees when requested.
- Requiring face masks and maintaining physical distance by all persons coming into USDA buildings for reasons including but not limited to business or visitation or entering onto USDA lands for reasons including, but not limited to, recreation or to attend a sanctioned event.
- [Note: Appropriate masks should be worn consistently including in outdoor shared spaces and USDA vehicles when physical distancing cannot be maintained. If a mask cannot be worn due to exceptions such as eating or drinking, maintaining physical distance is required.]
- Posting signage at gateways of entry, doors, reception desks, commons areas such as restrooms and hallways, conference rooms, ranger district stations, as well as on USDA websites and webpages that provide information about services offered at USDA locations.
- Messages that work:
- Message 1: To help us reduce the spread of COVID-19, effective immediately, all employees, vendors and guests visiting this USDA facility are required to wear a face mask and maintain physical distance. Thank you.
- Message 2: Please help us reduce the spread of COVID-19 and protect the USDA employees working on-site by wearing a face mask and practicing physical distancing when inside this USDA facility. Thank you.
- Messages that work:
USDA employees should be considerate when making customers and visitors aware of these requirements. Customers and visitors who will not honor USDA’s requirement should be asked, politely, to do so. To the extent funds are available, USDA may purchase masks to provide to customers and visitors but is not required to provide masks. If the customer or visitor refuses, please understand that is the individual’s right, but that they must be directed to conduct business off-site (over the phone or online) and to please depart the premises. USDA employees should remain respectful yet safe and call for assistance from local authorities if the situation cannot be resolved.
COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs
COVID-19 work schedule flexibilities
USDA has issued guidance about work schedule flexibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Summary of the main points:
- CORRECTION: All USDA facilities are in various phases of re-opening based on local conditions
- Supervisors may allow employees on a flexible work schedule to extend their workweek into Saturday
- Employees may not work their base hours on Sunday unless it is part of their regularly scheduled tour of duty
- Employees may elect to work credit hours on Sunday
- Core hours are temporarily suspended
- Employees may receive up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave. Guidance can be found on HRM’s COVID-19 webpage
- Supervisors should be liberal in approving leave requests: annual leave, credit hours, compensatory time or leave without pay
HRM has also received several questions regarding wellness time while teleworking. Employees may participate in wellness activities as specified in their telework and/or wellness agreements, providing they are following social distancing guidelines.
What You Need to Do
Employees and supervisors should work together to determine which work schedule flexibility is best for them.
Help Is Available
Open an HR Help case:
- Call: 1-877-372-7248, Press 2
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Self-Service: ConnectHR > HR Help link
- For detailed instructions, visit the HR Help How-to Add a Case Guide
Recent Leadership Corner articles:
Chief Christiansen - Rising to the occasion
March 25, 2020
Summary: Forest Service guidelines, protocols to implement USDA reopening playbook
The USDA Forest Service has developed a strategy (internal link) to operationalize the USDA Reopening Playbook (internal link), the framework created to guide the return to facilities based on guidance from the White House, Opening Up America Again, and Office of Management and Budget, Aligning Federal Agency Operations with the National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again. This strategy outlines the specific criteria, resources and tools for managers when making decisions that allow employees to gradually, effectively and safely return to work in a Forest Service facility.
The Forest Service motto is “Caring for the land and serving people.” This has remained true throughout the COVID-19 pandemic even as the way we worked looked much different. Forest Service employees have exhibited resilience in the midst of struggle and innovation in the midst of chaos. We recognize that many of the more than 1,100 facilities across the nation remained operational in some way due to the determination and passion of employees. The USDA Reopening Playbook provides a framework for our strategy and allowed us to build agency-specific guidance so we are able to take into account the unique circumstances of our facilities and employees. Whether we are reopening facilities or increasing operations, we will do so with the safety and well-being of our employees, contractors, volunteers and the public in mind.
- Our priorities will reflect our core values of safety for our employees and the people we serve and service to the American people and the interdependence between them.
- Decisions will be made at the local level based on local conditions, workforce and mission needs.
- We will transition through phases of resuming operations gradually and thoughtfully.
- Our decisions will be data-driven and supported by risk assessments.
- We care for our employees and will work to guard their physical and emotional well-being.
- The safety and well-being of employees will be carefully considered throughout each phase.
- Telework will be utilized through all phases of reopening. Supervisors will keep in close communication with employees throughout each phase to discuss individual and local circumstances, including:
- Child and dependent care needs
- Employee health
- Availability of public transportation in some areas
- Clearly and expeditiously communicate decisions to employees, volunteers and contractors.
- Decisions to resume operations at Forest Service facilities will be informed by the following:
- State or community compliance with federal gating criteria;
- The state or community has begun implementing phased in reopening of public and commercial activities and lifted mandatory travel restrictions;
- The increase in operation of the facility is necessary to fully serve constituents, ensure customer service and support the USDA Forest Service mission; and
- The Forest Service facility has appropriate face coverings or masks, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and services, and has a plan to ensure sufficient social hygiene practices are in place to protect employees, contractors and the public.
State and Local Communities
- We will comply with gating and phasing criteria outlined in the USDA Reopening Playbook and follow federal, state and local recommendations aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
- In the spirit of shared stewardship, we will work closely with local and state officials and with our partner federal land management agencies to coordinate decisions regarding facility operations.
- We will identify methods to provide important customer services in ways that protect our employees and our visitors.
- We will screen visitors to our facilities, and allow escorted access in some cases, while adhering to CDC guidelines regarding human interactions.
The three phases outlined in the strategy include guidelines for determining where and when the physical presence of employees is a necessary component and mitigation actions that reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure to employees and the public.
Each phase describes:
- Eligibility for Return to Facility—Telework options to meet employee and mission needs
- Onsite Practices—Mitigation measures for employees based on CDC protocols
- Visitor Considerations—When and how visitors may be allowed into the facility
- Travel Considerations—Allowable travel and adherence to quarantine recommendations
- Reduction in Phase—Status of employees, local and state governments, availability of PPE
- Strategy to Operationalize the USDA Reopening Playbook to Sustain Customer Service and Mission Delivery During the COVID-19 Pandemic (internal link)
- Excel Template: Facilities Status Change Request (internal link)
- White House: Opening Up America Again
- OMB: Aligning Federal Agency Operations with the National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again
- USDA Reopening Playbook summary
LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION
Hello fellow USDA colleagues,
I’m incredibly proud of your efforts over the past few months to continue our critical mission to “Do Right and Feed Everyone.” The resiliency and adaptability you’ve shown during this time has not gone unnoticed. The American people are expecting all of us at USDA to keep delivering our services, and you’ve made sure we have not let them down – even while we’ve been apart.
Our decision in the week of March 16, 2020 to move to maximum telework was to preserve the health of employees, support the national effort to flatten the curve, and reduce the impacts of COVID-19. This is succeeding thanks to your efforts to protect yourself, your colleagues, and your community and keep it as safe as possible for those who still must be on the frontlines performing mission-essential work. But even as we have been committed to these efforts, we recognize there are still questions and concerns regarding the status of USDA facilities as discussions nationwide turn to reopening the country.
We have worked hard to balance delivery of our services with protection of our employees, keeping your safety and health as our number one priority. Over the past few weeks, USDA has continued to analyze how to keep employees safe as we examine what reopening our offices and facilities would look like.
As such, we created USDA’s Reopening Playbook as a framework to guide how Mission Areas, Agencies, and Offices must analyze, sequence, and implement decisions on reopening. This playbook is a three-phased approach based on the advice of public health experts and guidance contained in the White House’s recently issued Opening Up America Again and the Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-20-23: Aligning Federal Agency Operations with the National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again. USDA’s Reopening Playbook provides guidance on how Mission Areas, Agencies, and Offices can utilize data to drive decisions that enable employees to gradually, effectively, and safely return to their respective onsite functions.
Below is a summary of the playbook with information on what you may expect in each phase and what is guiding your leadership’s decisions on reopening. Mission Areas, Agencies, and Offices are required to consider many factors such as prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, decisions of state and local health officials, physical layouts of facilities, and the business need to return to the office. Leadership has also been asked to take into account school closings and elder care, as well as health conditions that qualify employees as high-risk. Because this will be different for every community and every state, we wanted to provide a framework so your Mission Area, Agency, or Office can make data-driven decisions that make sense for you and your facility.
I want to assure you that reopening will not happen overnight, nor will it happen at the same time and in the same way for every facility across the country. Employees should continue to telework until you have been notified otherwise by your leadership and supervisors. Mission Area, Agency, and Office leadership will be in touch when your facility is ready to begin the reopening process.
If you have any questions, please reach out to your supervisor and stay tuned for updates from your Mission Area, Agency, or Office. There is still more hard work to be done, and we are still relying on your dedication to your work and your OneUSDA family.
Deputy Secretary Censky
Emergency Paid Sick Leave FAQs
USDA Secretary: Checking in [VIDEO]
I wanted to check in with you all during this time when we are apart. I’m a face-to-face sort of person – I love to visit people from office to office, so this has been an adjustment for me. But I’m here in the office where I have been on back-to-back Skype and conference calls to continue our work during the coronavirus pandemic. I asked one of the few people in the office (practicing social distancing, of course) to film this video so I could say hello and thank you for getting the job done.
I enjoy traveling all over the country to visit with you all, and I look forward to the day when we can all see each other again. Thank you for continuing the hard and necessary work that USDA does in so many areas from our Forest Service to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to our Researchers and the Foreign Agricultural Service. I hope you and your families are staying safe and healthy.
March 23, 2020
USDA Secretary: Doing Right
Hello USDA Family,
While we may not be operating under business as usual, USDA is still open for business. Across the country, our customers are having to stay on the job, and we have a critical role to serve them, just like we normally do.
I want to thank you for continuing to provide excellent customer service during this National Emergency. Americans everywhere are stepping up to the plate, in a range of different ways, to make sure we get through these trying times. I am so proud to see our USDA employees doing their part serving this great country. I know these are very stressful times, but please know that I know how hard you’re working and how you are getting creative to continue our mission to “Do Right and Feed Everyone.”
Let me tell you about Josh Carswell, a Rural Development Community Program Specialist in North Carolina, who lives in the rural community he serves. Josh’s satellite internet can be spotty in his house, which is set too far back from the highway to have his provider run fiber to his home. So, in this time of telework, Josh got creative. He solved his problem by building a small office at the end of his driveway complete with electricity and high-speed internet so he could continue working effectively from home and helping customers in North Carolina. His dedication to serve his fellow citizens is truly heartwarming.
And when our FPAC staff at the Tappahannock Service Center in Virginia needed a new way to support producers with timely payments and paperwork while still adhering to social distancing guidelines, they also got creative. FSA Programs Technician Courtnie Ellis turned a forgotten, unused, and empty desk into a combination dropbox and writing table for customers needing to pick up, deliver, or sign documents. Courtnie and NRCS District Conservationist Dwight Forrester preload documents into the desk if a farmer calls ahead. And if a customer shows up without a pen, a desk drawer has been stocked with extras along with instructions for customers to keep the pens once they are finished. And for any questions that come up during the process, all Service Center staff are just a phone call away, ready to help.
Even remotely, the Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services team have continued to ensure children and Americans who need food are fed. Patricia Dombroski, a FNS Regional Administrator who has been with USDA for 42 years, recognizes this is a hard time for folks across the country, and in a selfless act, has decided to postpone her retirement which was slated for late March. She says now is no time to leave her regional team and agency, which she calls her family, and that she’s honored to continue her service to an Agency with an incredibly important mission during this challenging time.
But there are positions that can’t telework and mission-critical services some of our employees need to be on-site or in-person to provide.
Take the group of Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations officers, for example, who just returned from deployment as a Quick Reaction Force to Travis Air Force Base in California. This group aided in quarantine efforts and helped to minimize a broader exposure in the area.
And in the Food Safety Mission Area, our food inspectors are on the frontlines to ensure Americans can still trust our USDA seal. They show up day in and day out, just like they always have, to help safe and wholesome products reach dinner tables across the country. Many of our inspectors have gone above and beyond by volunteering to go back to their agency roots and work on the line again so we can have the inspectors we need in the establishments.
I always say that USDA has the hardest working, most dedicated employees in the federal government. Never has this been the case more than now, as you’ve balanced your commitment and service to Americans with your commitment and service to your own families.
I’m so proud of you all. Thank you for your service to your fellow Americans. Your work shows a lot about your commitment to USDA’s mission and motto, and your love for the communities and neighbors you serve.
Update to COVID-19 Notifications Process
Hello fellow USDA colleagues,
It has been a very challenging few weeks for our nation, and the situation is changing rapidly all over the country. We want to keep you informed of the steps USDA is taking to protect the health and safety of our workforce while still delivering the essential services needed to support the food supply, our agricultural producers, and rural America. Thank you to our telework eligible employees who have leaned into telework so we can continue to provide our outstanding level of customer service while protecting our health. And thank you to those frontline employees who have continued to report into work each and every day to perform mission-critical duties - the food supply chain depends on you and Americans thank you!
Some of you work in facilities where a colleague has tested positive for COVID-19. We’ve made every effort possible to prioritize that employee’s health and balance the right to privacy with notifying others who may need to have awareness of potential exposure.
This has been a learning process for us all, as we’ve had to develop new protocols and readjust to new medical guidelines as each week has gone by. That is why we wanted to make sure we communicated with you about how we will treat notifications on test positive cases moving forward.
On March 15th, USDA issued guidance to maximize the use of telework no later than March 19th where possible nationwide. As most states and localities have issued stay at home or shelter in place orders since then, we have worked with offices in those areas to exhaust every possible resource to be able to continue our missions from a virtual, telework posture to protect the health of our employees. And for facilities and job functions that require employees to be on site to perform mission-critical functions, we have worked to provide the support needed for employees to feel safe.
The estimated incubation period for COVID-19 is up to 14 days, which is how long it has been since a vast majority of USDA employees nationwide were last in their offices following our March 15th guidance to maximize telework by March 19th. We expect that most future positive cases of USDA employees will be reported outside the timeframes that would present a risk of exposure to colleagues who have transitioned to maximum telework. This means employees who have transitioned to telework will likely not be notified of every positive case unless they were in the building within the 14-day timeline and/or were in physical contact with the individual who tested positive.
Since the majority of Department is on maximized telework aside from mission-critical employees who must report to duty onsite, moving forward we will notify only those employees who are in the office or facility on the corresponding days as the test positive employee. Employees who have been identified as mission-critical and who still need to report into their facility one or more days a week have been reminded that they should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mitigation guidelines and maintain proper social distance. USDA will continue to follow CDC guidelines and our own COVID-19 Playbook guidance to inform USDA employees who may be impacted by potential exposure to their colleague who tests positive.
USDA will follow CDC guidelines for properly cleaning our facilities when there has been a confirmed test-positive case and will complete all necessary cleaning prior to allowing employees access to the facilities. This will include all regularly scheduled cleaning that will continue to occur so when the federal government lifts its maximized telework posture and it is safe for employees to return, they can do so with confidence that their workplace is safe.
We understand this is a stressful situation, and you may have questions. We are committed to giving you the most current and relevant information available. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact your supervisor. Additionally, Employee Assistance Program services, including counseling, is available to all employees who may be experiencing personal problems that may affect their job performance, conduct, or attendance. You may call (800) 222-0364 for assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No personal information regarding your visit can be obtained by anyone without your written consent, and your participation is not noted in your E-OPF.
Deputy Secretary Censky
Summary of EAP Providers--As of April 3, 2020
- Link the Employee Assistance Program (internal link)
- Region 1 and 6: ESPYR/EAP Consultants at (800) 869-0276
- Region 4: ComPsych at (888) 290-4327
- All Other Units: FOH at (800) 222-0364
- JCCCCs** and WO detached/virtual employees are to use the services where they are geographically aligned.
- The providers can sometime change, so please contact your EAP local coordinator (see below) or your local USDA Forest Service safety manager. **We are working to update the JCCCC list and will update this information early the week of April 6th. Additional questions, can be sent to Wendy J. Veney.
Extension of Telework Guidance
Hello fellow USDA colleagues,
In light of President Donald J. Trump’s extension of social distancing guidelines through April 30, 2020, USDA is extending its maximized telework posture until further notice. This is an update to USDA’s telework guidance issued on March 15, 2020 that maximized telework nationwide through April 3, 2020. This timing will be assessed as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
USDA has maximized telework with a focus on continuing our service to our customers and maintaining the safest, most affordable food supply in the world. Due to the diversity of USDA’s operations and the services we deliver, some employees will need to continue to report to work to perform mission-critical functions that cannot be performed remotely. Still other employees may be able to work from home several days a week, but not every day, due to our service responsibilities. If an office or program requires in-person work, Mission Areas are to continue with their plans to maintain that continuity or make back up plans for that continuity.
Thank you for your hard work to continue our mission to “Do Right and Feed Everyone” during this uncertain time. Americans thank you, our farmers thank you, and your leadership thanks you.
Thanks and Best Regards,
Deputy Secretary Censky
USDA expiring LincPass-PIV card guidance
Link to PDF version of letter.
USDA Work Schedule Flexibilities
Link to PDF version of letter.
Deputy Censky's "Thank you" message
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
Chief Christiansen provides coronavirus guidance to employees, anchoring to our values of service, safety and interdependence
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.Chief Christiansen’s video for the latest information.
Continuing USDA's Mission | A Coronavirus Update from Secretary Perdue
Watch Secretary Perdue's video for his full message.
Chief's All-Employee Call: March 13
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.
Updated Telework Guidance
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.
So What's Next?
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.
National Capital Region Update on Positive Case:
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
USDA: Telework readiness related to COVID-19
Office of Personnel Management: COVID-19 FAQs
OPM shared guidance and frequently asked questions related to coronavirus on March 7.
Additional questions? Ask USDA
Send additional questions about COVID-19 preparations through Ask USDA.
Deputy Censky's message about COVID-19
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.