Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and a bipartisan group of Senators in sending a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urging them to include maximum telework requirements for federal employees and contractors in the next coronavirus relief package. 

“As the Senate considers the next coronavirus relief package, we urge you to include requirements to ensure maximum telework for federal employees and contractors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal employees and contractors have been teleworking successfully throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, many of whom have been keeping vital services running and implementing relief measures to support the economy and stop the spread of COVID-19,” the Senators begin.

“As new waves of COVID-19 cases continue to hit areas across the country, it is especially important for federal agencies to have a clear mandate that sets a positive example for employers to keep their workforces and communities safe. Plans to bring federal employees back into offices prematurely would threaten to erase the progress made against the coronavirus and increase community spread,” they continue. 

They emphasize the public health benefits of telework, writing, “All federal employees and contractors who can perform their duties remotely should be doing so. Agencies should enable telework for as many federal workers and contractor personnel as possible, and should continue to maximize telework throughout the pandemic. Telework protects not only federal employees from the spread of COVID-19, but also their families and the communities across the country in which they work.”

Along with Sens. Warner and Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Angus King (I-Maine), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). 

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer: 

As the Senate considers the next coronavirus relief package, we urge you to include requirements to ensure maximum telework for federal employees and contractors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal employees and contractors have been teleworking successfully throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, many of whom have been keeping vital services running and implementing relief measures to support the economy and stop the spread of COVID-19.

As new waves of COVID-19 cases continue to hit areas across the country, it is especially important for federal agencies to have a clear mandate that sets a positive example for employers to keep their workforces and communities safe. Plans to bring federal employees back into offices prematurely would threaten to erase the progress made against the coronavirus and increase community spread.

All federal employees and contractors who can perform their duties remotely should be doing so. Agencies should enable telework for as many federal workers and contractor personnel as possible, and should continue to maximize telework throughout the pandemic. Telework protects not only federal employees from the spread of COVID-19, but also their families and the communities across the country in which they work.

We appreciate your past support for federal employees and the funding provided in the CARES Act to help agencies expand telework. We ask that you continue this support by requiring maximum telework in the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the next coronavirus relief package. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Russell T. Vought and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director Michael J. Rigas, urging them to reverse course on plans by several agencies to bring federal employees back to their worksites prematurely, by issuing clear guidance to extend maximum telework throughout the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. 

The Senators begin, “We write to express our opposition to plans to require many federal employees in the National Capital Region to return to their worksites. The current guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is encouraging these unsafe actions, and we urge you to issue new guidance to better protect the federal workforce and surrounding communities from the increasing spread of COVID-19.”

They continue, “As we are seeing around the nation, premature reopenings are leading to new waves of COVID-19 cases. It is especially important for federal agencies to have clear guidance that sets a positive example. As of July 8th, more than 3,000,000 Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 131,700 Americans have died.”

The Senators note that current OPM/OMB guidance conflicts with direction from other members of the Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionand that of state and local governments. For example, “In the National Capital Region, many federal agencies are bringing employees back to the office instead of teleworking, even though the reopening guidelines for Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia all urge employers to continue telework as much as possible. Unlike these federal agencies, governments in Maryland, Virginia, and the District continue to utilize liberal telework policies and limited office capacity for public sector workers.”

They go on to underscore that prior to the pandemic, 40% of rush hour Metro commuters were federal workers, so dismantling maximum telework could endanger the health and safety of the entire region. “And since 85 percent of federal employees work outside of our region, it endangers the entire country. We urge you to issue clearer guidance directing agencies to continue maximizing telework throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Senators conclude. 

The Senators have urged maximum telework and protections for federal employees and contractors throughout the pandemic. In April, they joined a letter to OPM and OMB seeking answers on inconsistent and confusing guidance, and raising concerns about ending maximum telework prematurely. In March, Van Hollen led a letter with the other National Capital Region Senators to President Trump, pressing him to sign an executive order maximizing telework for federal workers. Additionally in March, the Senators signed a letter to OPM urging that federal employees who follow recommended public health guidance to limit the spread of the coronavirus not be penalized.

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Mr. Rigas and Mr. Vought:

We write to express our opposition to plans to require many federal employees in the National Capital Region to return to their worksites. The current guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is encouraging these unsafe actions, and we urge you to issue new guidance to better protect the federal workforce and surrounding communities from the increasing spread of COVID-19.

As we are seeing around the nation, premature reopenings are leading to new waves of COVID-19 cases. It is especially important for federal agencies to have clear guidance that sets a positive example. As of July 8th, more than 3,000,000 Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 131,700 Americans have died. 

Federal employees and contractors have been teleworking successfully throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, keeping vital services running and implementing economic relief programs and measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. Many workers in our area still lack access to regular child care due to COVID-19, and ordering these workers back into the office makes it needlessly harder for them to balance work and family obligations during the pandemic.

The current guidance is encouraging agencies to end maximum telework prematurely. COVID-19 is a deadly threat to anyone – and anyone can carry the virus and transmit it to others – but the current OPM/OMB guidance only supports sustained maximum telework throughout the pandemic for certain workers deemed to be high risk. Further, the guidance sometimes conflicts with direction from other members of the Trump Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local governments. Reopening too quickly by ending maximum telework threatens to erase the progress made against the virus and endanger the health and safety of federal employees and everyone else in an agency’s region through increased community spread.

In the National Capital Region, many federal agencies are bringing employees back to the office instead of teleworking, even though the reopening guidelines for Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia all urge employers to continue telework as much as possible. Unlike these federal agencies, governments in Maryland, Virginia, and the District continue to utilize liberal telework policies and limited office capacity for public sector workers. 

Prior to the pandemic, 40 percent of Metro commuters during rush hour in the National Capitol Region were federal employees. Any increased crowding on trains and buses in the National Capital Region will only further increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

Your current guidance is endangering the health and safety of federal workers and everyone in our region. And since 85 percent of federal employees work outside of our region, it endangers the entire country. We urge you to issue clearer guidance directing agencies to continue maximizing telework throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Gary C. Peters (D-Mich.) and  18 of their Senate colleagues in writing to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regarding the safety of federal workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The senators are requesting information on the agencies’ efforts to ensure that agencies maximize telework across their workforce, collect and provide data on current teleworking practices at federal agencies, standardize the procedures by which positive cases of COVID-19 are handled and disclosed, and on how OMB and OPM are evaluating when it is safe for federal employees to return to work at their physical job sites.

Joining Sens. Warner, Warren, Murray, and Peters sending the letter are Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), 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.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)

“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.

As the two agencies tasked with managing human resources across the federal government, OMB and OPM have the authority and responsibility to protect federal employees and prevent them from contracting and unwittingly spreading COVID-19 during this pandemic. Last week, OMB and OPMissued a memo directing federal agencies to “incorporate” President 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 that 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 their letter, the senators noted that, although thousands of federal employees have reportedly been infected with COVID-19, teleworking has been implemented inconsistently across the federal government. The senators cited reports that some employees’ requests to work remotely are being denied, even though their jobs can be done remotely, and that in some offices, senior staff are able to telework while lower-level administrative staff are required to come to work in close quarters. They highlighted a recent report that some workers might be hiding their symptoms out of fear of retaliations, because of pressure to return to work. The senators also noted that there appears to be no uniform guidance for federal agencies to handle and report positive COVID-19 cases among their workforce.

“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.”

The senators raised concerns that the recently-issued OMB and OPM guidance may be taken as a signal that there is no need to make telework more widely available because further direction to reopen the government may be forthcoming. 

To address their concerns, the senators asked that OPM and OMB answer a series of questions about ensuring that agencies maximize telework, procedures among agencies for reporting and handling COVID-19 cases, how they are determining when to roll back telework guidance, and more. They requested answers to their questions by May 8, 2020.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after voting in favor of a $2 trillion bipartisan package to provide financial relief to businesses and families as well as hospitals and local governments during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: 

“This is not the first step Congress has taken to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, nor will it be the last. This bill provides significant financial relief to our families and businesses struggling with the effects of widespread closures and other public health measures. It greatly expands access to unemployment benefits – including, for the first time, gig workers, contractors and the self-employed –  and includes tax credits and other incentives I negotiated with the Trump Administration to help small businesses keep workers on payroll and keep them from going out of business during this crisis. This bipartisan bill also includes a massive infusion of resources for hospitals, frontline caregivers, and states and localities dealing with the brunt of COVID-19. I strongly urge the House of Representatives to pass this bill without delay, so that we can get this urgently-required relief to those who so badly need it.

“This is a challenge unlike any we have faced in recent memory, but I believe that we as a country can and will get through this together. I will remain in close touch with state, local and health officials to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide the resources needed to fight the coronavirus.”

Previously, the President signed a bipartisan $8.3 billion emergency funding bill that directed needed resources to federal, state and local agencies responding to coronavirus. This legislation immediately provided Virginia with $13.3 million in federal funding to help cover the costs of preparations for this public health emergency. It also included language based on Sen. Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, which reduces restrictions on the use of telehealth for public health emergency response, as well as $500 million to facilitate its implementation.

On March 18, the President signed a second bipartisan coronavirus response bill that focused on the immediate economic impact of the coronavirus. This legislation expanded paid sick leave to many Americans, cut restrictions on unemployment insurance for workers who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, and guaranteed freed coronavirus testing. It also included significant emergency funding for Medicaid, nutrition assistance, state unemployment programs, and coronavirus testing at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Today’s legislation provides for $1,200 in direct payments to most Americans, and includes billions of dollars in lending and grant programs designed to help businesses, workers and municipalities survive this crisis, along with strong transparency and accountability measures to make sure that federal funding doesn’t go towards stock buybacks or bonuses for corporate executives. Today’s bipartisan bill also provides for $150 billion for hospitals and other public health infrastructure, part of an unprecedented investment that Sen. Warner and other Democrats fought to include as our frontline responders struggle under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. It also includes an important change to existing tax policy allowing employers, for the first time, to use pre-tax dollars to help pay down employees’ student debt – provision modeled after Sen. Warner’s bipartisan Employer Participation in Repayment Act.

A more comprehensive list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak is available here.  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, pushed the Department of Defense (DoD) to issue guidance for uniformed, civilian, and contractor personnel to help them better understand their options for paid leave and telework amid the COVID-19 outbreak. In a letter to Secretary Mark T. Esper, Sen. Warner requested that the DoD clarify what types of leave are applicable in a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios, and provide guidance on the types of DoD workers that are eligible for telework.

“An area of particular concern is how administrative leave, weather and safety leave, sick leave, and annual leave apply under a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios,” wrote Sen. Warner. “These personnel should not face uncertainty or obstacles in their efforts to preserve our individual or collective health.” 

Currently, there is fragmentation in the DoD’s current leave policy that creates ambiguity regarding the kind of leave that would apply if employees needed to take time off work in the event that they were symptomatic, exposed but not symptomatic, or if they needed to care for family members who have contracted COVID-19. 

In his letter, Sen. Warner, who has heard from several Virginians who have been forbidden from teleworking despite considerable safety concerns, also urged the DoD to clarify which employees occupy mission-critical positions, and which are eligible for telework.

“The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued guidance for agencies to expand telework flexibility, but at present, guidance issued by OMB, OPM, and the Department have ambiguity that is creating confusion and anxiety,” he continued. “Personnel whose duties and responsibilities do not immediately contribute to a critical national security function would benefit from a clear directive instructing them to work remotely and would make a significant impact for our nation.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner encouraged the Department to create further telework options, as appropriate, for employees currently deemed ineligible for telework in order to protect their safety and health and that of their family members. He also emphasized that any guidance should be consistent and transparent for all eligible personnel stationed across the country and abroad.  

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for federal workers amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Yesterday, he led seven of his Senate colleagues in calling on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to post department and agency contingency plans amid the COVID-19 outbreak as more federal agencies begin to ramp up teleworking capabilities. Additionally, he has urged President Trump to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to utilize telework capabilities to the maximum possible extent, and has called on the House and Senate to address the potential financial hardship for Congress’ support workforce if their work schedules are unexpectedly disrupted as the result of changes to congressional operations.

A copy of the letter is available here and below, and a full list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

 

The Honorable Mark T. Esper

Secretary

U.S. Department of Defense 

Washington, D.C.  20301

Dear Secretary Esper:

I write to ask you to clarify personnel policy governing the Department’s response to COVID-19 so that uniformed, civilian, and contractor personnel better understand how they can and should adapt to minimize the spread and impact of this virus.

An area of particular concern is how administrative leave, weather and safety leave, sick leave, and annual leave apply under a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios, to include for personnel whose normal duty station is a classified facility, whether personnel occupy a mission critical position or not, if they are symptomatic or exposed but not symptomatic, and if they must care for family members who have contracted COVID-19.

These personnel should not face uncertainty or obstacles in their efforts to preserve our individual or collective health. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued guidance for agencies to expand telework flexibility, but at present, guidance issued by OMB, OPM, and the Department have ambiguity that is creating confusion and anxiety.  For example, personnel should have due flexibility to telework, as appropriate, to protect their safety and health and that of their family members.

Personnel whose duties and responsibilities do not immediately contribute to a critical national security function would benefit from a clear directive instructing them to work remotely and would make a significant impact for our nation.  For personnel deemed ineligible for telework, the Department should investigate and create further options, when possible, to temporarily make them eligible. The urgency for the Department to take necessary steps and clarify concerns about telework options for personnel will ensure personnel do not feel aggrieved during the outbreak of COVID-19.  This guidance should be consistent and transparent for all eligible personnel stationed across the country and abroad.

Maintaining a healthy workforce with confidence in the government’s commitment to their welfare is of the utmost importance to us.  Thank you in advance for your prompt response and attention to this matter.

I look forward to working with you to address this matter of urgent priority.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led seven of his Senate colleagues in a letter to the Acting Directors of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) calling on the agencies to post department and agency contingency plans amid the COVID-19 outbreak so that Americans know what services to expect as more federal agencies begin to ramp up teleworking capabilities to mitigate the spread of the virus. In their letter, the Senators stress that publicly posting the information would provide federal employees and contractors with thorough guidance and allow policymakers to ensure proper compliance.

“As the federal government continues to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, we request that you require departments and agencies to post their continuity of operation (COOP) plans online in an accessible format and central location, unless there are legitimate intelligence or national security reasons not to do so. Making these plans transparent and readily available is key to ensuring that our constituents understand what services are continuing in the midst of the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19. It is also important for federal employees and contractors to understand and properly implement the required mitigation measures and for policymakers to ensure compliance with these measures,” wrote the Senators.

In their letter, the Senators underscore that providing this information publicly would be consistent with the way in which the government handles contingency plans during a government shutdown. Further, publishing the information publicly would provide Congress with greater transparency to ensure compliance.

“Sharing this information publicly would be consistent with how the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has posted department and agency contingency plans for lapses in federal appropriations. Such transparency is critical to give citizens confidence in the government response during this difficult time and assure federal employees and contractors that the government is prioritizing their health and well-being,” they continued.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gary Peters (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

The Honorable Michael Rigas

Acting Director

Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street NW

Washington, DC 20415-1000

The Honorable Russell Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

725 17th Street NW 

Washington, DC 20503 

Dear Acting Director Rigas and Acting Director Vought:

As the federal government continues to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, we request that you require departments and agencies to post their continuity of operation (COOP) plans online in an accessible format and central location, unless there are legitimate intelligence or national security reasons not to do so. Making these plans transparent and readily available is key to ensuring that our constituents understand what services are continuing in the midst of the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19. It is also important for federal employees and contractors to understand and properly implement the required mitigation measures and for policymakers to ensure compliance with these measures.

Sharing this information publicly would be consistent with how the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has posted department and agency contingency plans for lapses in federal appropriations. Such transparency is critical to give citizens confidence in the government response during this difficult time and assure federal employees and contractors that the government is prioritizing their health and well-being.

Maintaining a healthy federal workforce with confidence in the government’s commitment to their welfare is of the utmost importance to us. Thank you in advance for your prompt response and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and 25 of his colleagues, in sending a letter to President Trump urging him to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to utilize telework capabilities to the maximum possible extent. While the Administration has issued guidance recommending agencies expand their telework capabilities, too many federal employees are still required to come to work in-person when they can do their job from home. As the Centers for Disease Control and other public health experts recommend practicing social-distancing, the federal government should lead by example and cease all policies that could endanger the health and safety of its employees and exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus.

The Senators write, “I urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to use telework to the maximum extent practicable in light of the COVID-19 emergency. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies to increase telework flexibility in the National Capital Region, but your order should be a clear direction – rather than general guidance – and it should be worldwide in scope.”

They underscore, “Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government. You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions.”  

The Senators close the letter, noting, “Voluntary guidance is not enough – agencies need clear orders. In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and I hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in my state on a daily basis.” 

In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

 

The full text of the letter is available here and below: 

Dear President Trump,

We urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to use telework to the maximum extent practicable in light of the COVID-19 emergency. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies to increase telework flexibility in the National Capital Region, but your order should be a clear direction – rather than general guidance – and it should be worldwide in scope. State and local governments have been far more proactive than the federal Executive Branch in making arrangements for their employees to telework where possible. We have maximized teleworking in our Senate Offices. You should order Executive agencies to do the same. We must lead by example. 

Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government. You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions. 

You should order agencies to immediately rescind all cuts to telework made since 2016. In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, 21% of federal employees participated in telework – a slight decline after years of steady increases from 14% in 2012. In 2017, 43% of employees were telework-eligible, so allowing all of them to telework during this emergency would make an immediate difference. 

These telework directives should apply to federal workers throughout the United States and to other countries where there are cases of COVID-19. In the National Capital Region, 40% of Metro commuters during morning rush hour are federal employees, and these crowded trains and buses pose a major risk for COVID-19 transmission. But COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and only 15% of federal employees work in the National Capital Region. The federal government should not wait until an area already has widespread community transmission of COVID-19 to act.

Voluntary guidance is not enough – agencies need clear orders. In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and we hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in our states on a daily basis. 

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), members of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, were joined by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in sending a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate committees responsible for Congressional administration, calling on them to address the potential financial hardship for Congress’ support workforce if they have to self-quarantine during this time or have their work schedules unexpectedly disrupted as the result of changes to congressional operations.

“Given the Legislative Branch’s extensive reliance on contract workers for a range of functions, including food service and janitorial work, we write to urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for these workers if they have to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 or in the event the Congress adjourns for a prolonged state work period as a social distancing measure,” the Senators wrote.

In the letter, sent to Senate Committee on Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO), Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Committee on House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-CA 19), and Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-IL 13), the Senators highlighted the role that janitors, food service workers, and other support contractors play in maintaining the Capitol complex, which hosts three to five million visitors each year.

“We encourage you to consider ensuring any workers who follow novel coronavirus-related guidance from public health authorities—including directives to be tested, self-quarantine, or take other “social distancing” measures—have some financial forbearance,” the Senators continued. “While we are pleased that the Architect of the Capitol has directed contractors to provide paid administrative leave to any worker that has been confirmed to have COVID-19, we believe more expansive accommodations must be established to protect the public health and ensure workers don’t experience significant financial hardship in the wake of guidance from public health authorities.”

Earlier today, the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms ordered limited access throughout the U.S. Capitol complex beginning this evening and running through April 1, 2020. The Capitol Visitor Center will be closed to all tours. The U.S. Capitol and Senate office buildings will be limited to Members, Congressional staff, credentialed press, and official business visitors escorted by a staff member.

A copy of the letter is found here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

March 12, 2020

The Honorable Roy Blunt

Chairman

Senate Committee on Rules & Administration

Russell 305

Washington, DC 20510 

The Honorable Zoe Lofgren

Chairperson

Committee on House Administration

Longworth 1309

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Amy Klobuchar

Ranking Member

Senate Committee on Rules & Administration

Russell 305

Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Rodney Davis

Ranking Member

Committee on House Administration

Longworth 1309

Washington, DC 20515

Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Klobuchar, Chairperson Lofgren & Ranking Member Davis:

As the United States mobilizes to respond to the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, we urge you to take into consideration the well-being of all of Legislative Branch employees, including contract workers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a public health response to a potential coronavirus disease outbreak in the United States that included recommendations for social distancing.  The CDC is urging Americans to stay home when ill, work remotely, and seek medical care when infected. Out of an abundance of caution, workers who have had contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients have also been instructed to self-quarantine. In many contexts, employers have reduced operations, encouraging workers to stay at home on special leave prompted by the pandemic. Contract workers are critical to the daily function of the Capitol complex and surrounding buildings – a facility that hosts three to five million visitors each year. Approximately 60% of those visitors come to the Capitol complex between March and July.  

As The New York Times recently noted, however, following the CDC’s recommendations in response to the potential spread of the coronavirus is a luxury some workers can’t afford.  Some workers may simply not be able to follow these recommendations without experiencing some kind of financial hardship. Given the Legislative Branch’s extensive reliance on contract workers for a range of functions, including food service and janitorial work, we write to urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for these workers if they have to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 or in the event the Congress adjourns for a prolonged state work period as a social distancing measure. 

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on benefits provision, service sector workers are likely some of the most vulnerable workers during a potential spread of the coronavirus. We know, for example, that only 44% of service sector workers, 23% of part-time workers, and 37% of workers in the bottom quartile of wages have access to a healthcare plan.   A majority of these workers also tend to work without access to paid leave. Only 43% of service sector workers, 23% of part-time workers, and 56% of workers in the bottom quartile of earnings have access to some type of paid leave.  This last statistic is particularly salient for public health reasons because we know that more than 43% of workers in the bottom quartile needed to take leave in 2018 for their own illness or medical care and didn’t take it.  Over 60% of those part-time and lowest-wage workers felt they did not have enough leave, could not afford the loss of income, feared negative employment repercussions, or simply did not have access.  

We encourage you to consider ensuring any workers who follow novel coronavirus-related guidance from public health authorities—including directives to be tested, self-quarantine, or take other “social distancing” measures—have some financial forbearance. While we are pleased that the Architect of the Capitol has directed contractors to provide paid administrative leave to any worker that has been confirmed to have COVID-19, we believe more expansive accommodations must be established to protect the public health and ensure workers don’t experience significant financial hardship in the wake of guidance from public health authorities. 

Again, we strongly urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for Congress’ support workforce if they have to self-quarantine during this time or have their work schedules unexpectedly disrupted as the result of changes to congressional operations. In order to limit the spread of COVID-19, Congress must lead by example by committing that economic uncertainty will not deter these dedicated public servants from following public health guidance during the response.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter. We look forward to working together on this critical issue moving forward.

Sincerely,

 ###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to the Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) urging them to issue clear guidance that ensures the security clearances of intelligence community personnel and contractors will not be jeopardized due to the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I write to ask you to issue guidance directing agencies to exercise appropriate leniency in considering how the coronavirus (COVID-19) may be negatively impacting adjudications for a security clearance or determination of trust,” wrote Sen. Warner.

A key element of the background investigation that supports a security clearance or a determination of trustworthiness is an individual’s financial stability. In his letter, Sen. Warner raised concerns that COVID-19’s impact could not only lead to financial duress for employees with security clearances, but that this financial duress could lead to delays in renewing security clearances. It could even result in personnel losing their positions in the event that they must heed the advice of health professionals and subsequently lose out on a paycheck in order to self-quarantine. The problem is particularly true for younger workers who lack a long credit history.

“While I understand that departments and agencies may already have certain discretion to consider broader contextual factors that may affect personnel vetting decisions, I ask you to issue clear and public guidance that departments and agencies may in no way penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness due to circumstances associated with coping with COVID-19. This guidance should apply to any information used in an initial clearance, a periodic reinvestigation, or a continuous evaluation program,” continued Sen. Warner.

Earlier this week, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) issued a statement that supports Sen. Warner’s recommendation for the DNI Acting Director to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus by issuing guidance that acknowledges that “financial difficulties incurred as a result of a work stoppage should not be treated as derogatory factors affecting workers’ security clearances.”

A copy of the letter is found here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

The Honorable Dale Cabaniss

Director, Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street, NW

Washington, D.C.  20415

Ambassador Richard Grenell

Acting Director of National Intelligence

Washington, D.C.  20511

Dear Director Cabaniss and Acting Director Grenell:

I write to ask you to issue guidance directing agencies to ensure that the coronavirus (COVID-19) does not negatively impact adjudications for government or contractor employees’ security clearances or determinations of trust.

COVID-19 may have many effects on our workforce, to include financial difficulty and psychological stress.  Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may require government and contractor personnel to self-quarantine or tend to family members, which in may cause them miss payments on things like rent, mortgage, credit cards, or other forms of debt.  The impact may be particularly acute for hourly workers.  This could impact their credit scores and jeopardize their ability to secure or maintain a clearance or hold a position of trust.  The problem is particularly acute for younger workers who lack a long credit history.  Psychological strain can naturally accompany such circumstances, exacerbating the situation.

While I understand that departments and agencies may already have certain discretion to consider broader contextual factors that may affect personnel vetting decisions, I ask you to issue clear and public guidance to ensure that departments and agencies do not penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness due to circumstances associated with COVID-19.  This guidance should apply to any information used in an initial clearance, a periodic reinvestigation, or a continuous evaluation/vetting program.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

###

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reverse his decision that would negatively impact the collective bargaining rights of Department of Defense (DOD) employees.  The letter was also signed by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

“More than 700,000 Americans work civilian jobs for the Department of Defense.  They are dedicated to the Department’s mission and a part of the Department’s successes,” the Senators wrote.  “This new memorandum provides the Secretary of Defense and other department officials with the blanket authority to waive the collective bargaining rights of all of these employees when, in fact, labor organizations and collective bargaining in the civil service are in the public interest.”

“A fair collective bargaining process is a cornerstone of American labor law and a right afforded to employees within the federal government.  Any exemptions permitted by the process are not meant to be given widely to an entire Department as a sweeping declaration, but to be carefully considered,” the Senator continued.  “The Department of Defense has a history of working with labor unions that represent the interests of employees…We urge you to reconsider this new memorandum and work to protect the collective bargaining rights of federal employees, including those at the Department of Defense.” 

On January 29, 2020, President Trump issued a memorandum granting the Secretary of Defense the authority to exempt DOD agency employees from collective bargaining. 

Since enactment of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, no president has found it necessary to issue a blanket exemption of all DOD employees from collective bargaining.

Click HERE to read the letter.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, members of the Senate Budget Committee, released the following statements on President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021(FY21) budget: 

“Simply put, the President’s budget fails Virginia. With the deficit at record highs thanks to the President’s massive tax cuts for big business and the wealthiest Americans, this proposal attempts to balance the budget at the expense of hardworking Virginians and investments in our local economy. It completely eliminates funding for the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay – an ecological treasure and important economic engine that supports thousands of jobs. It repays our federal workers for their years of service with deep cuts to their retirement benefits. And instead of investing in our coal communities, the Trump budget would eliminate the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation program that helps communities in Southwest Virginia invest in clean-up and economic revitalization efforts,” said Warner.

“This budget is yet another alarming example of the President’s attempts to leave the most vulnerable Americans behind. It slashes Medicaid, which 1.2 million Virginians rely on for their health care. It cuts food stamp benefits, which keep 695,000 Virginians from going hungry. And it guts other critical programs like community development block grants and home heating assistance. As we have done successfully in years past, we are going to fight on the Budget Committee to reject these harmful cuts and pass a budget that better reflects the needs of all Virginians,” said Kaine.

Below is a list of some of the impacts President Trump’s budget would have on Virginians:

Medicaid: The budget proposes cutting Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. The budget would give states the ability to pursue damaging work requirements, more stringent eligibility criteria, increased co-payments, and more. 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): The budget would restrict access to SNAP, a safety net to prevent the most vulnerable Americans—particularly seniors and children—from going hungry.

Chesapeake Bay: The budget proposes to decimate the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program. These cuts would threaten key federal assistance that helps localities, farmers, and others take steps to reduce the pollution flowing into the Bay.

National Institutes of Health (NIH): The budget proposes $38 billion for NIH, a nearly $4 billion cut from FY20. Millions of Americans rely on NIH research to inform our understanding and development of new and innovative treatments for serious illnesses like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.

After School Programs: The budget would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding for afterschool programs, which would affect 20,504 children in Virginia.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): The budget would eliminate the PSLF program, denying Virginia’s hardworking public servants—such as teachers, nurses, and first responders, and other public service professionals—the loan forgiveness they earned.

Airports: The budget would eliminate Airport Improvement Program Discretionary grants. In FY19, these grants provided more than $64.8 million for airport improvements across the Commonwealth at both large and small airports.

Port of Virginia: The budget would eliminate the Port Infrastructure Development program. Previously funded at $225 million, funds from this program support critical infrastructure improvements at the Port of Virginia.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields: The budget would eliminate the Heritage Partnership Program, funding to support the maintenance of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): The budget proposes to eliminate LIHEAP, which was previously funded at $8.7 billion. This vital safety net program helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills in localities across the Commonwealth.

Abandoned Mines: The budget would eliminate Abandoned Mine Land Grants, which provided $115 million in discretionary funds last year to help places like Southwest Virginia reclaim and repurpose abandoned coal lands.

Virginia Tribes: The budget would reduce housing block grants to tribes by more than one quarter. Virginia tribes rely on these funds to develop low-income housing.

Affordable Housing: The budget would eliminate the Choice Neighborhoods, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and HOME Investment Partnerships programs—programs that support the building and rehabilitation of affordable housing. In 2019, Virginia cities and counties received $57 million in CDBG grants and $25 million in HOME grants. In 2018, Newport News and Norfolk received $60 million in Choice Neighborhoods grants to build affordable housing in the Marshall-Ridley neighborhood and St. Paul’s area, respectively.

Economic Development Administration (EDA): The budget would eliminate the EDA. Virginia was awarded 12 EDA grants for $4 million in 2018, including funding to help the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) build an apprenticeship academy and prepare young Virginians for jobs in a growing industry. 

Federal Employees: The budget would make federal employees’ health and retirement benefits more expensive for workers. 

###

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and 43 of his colleagues in sending a letter requesting that Senate leadership and appropriations conferees include provisions to protect federal employees’ collective bargaining rights in any appropriations legislation Congress passes.

“Robust labor unions are a hallmark of competitive workplaces – they lead the fight for better benefits, protections, and working conditions. The Trump Administration’s anti-union agenda undermines the government’s ability to attract talented workers and demoralizes workers currently in public service” wrote the Senators. “At a time when the right to unionize in both the public and private sectors is increasingly under attack, we must affirm our support for workers and labor rights.”

Earlier this year, the House passed the FY2020 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill with a provision to prevent agencies from implementing any labor agreement that has not been agreed to by all parties or was not the result of binding arbitration. This provision restores the collective bargaining process and requires agencies to return to the bargaining table to engage in good-faith negotiations. Without this protection, unions will be locked into unreasonable and unfair contracts for the foreseeable future.

Hardworking families in Michigan and across the country rely on labor unions to fight for better opportunities and help prevent unfair contracts. Over the past two years, the Trump Administration has taken actions that undermine federal labor-management relations, including issuing Executive Orders that drastically reduce official time, restrict collective bargaining and obstruct the union grievance process. Some agencies have refused to negotiate altogether, including the Environmental Protection Agency, which forced a seven-year contract on employees over union objections in July.

Peters was joined in requesting the provisions by U.S. Senators Doug Jones (D-AL), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Angus King (I-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

The text of the letter is copied below and available here:

Dear Leader McConnell, Chairman Shelby, Chairman Kennedy, Leader Schumer, Vice Chairman Leahy, and Ranking Member Coons:

As you finalize appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) and begin conference discussions with your House counterparts, we respectfully ask that you accede to Section 749 of the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (H.R.3351), which provides an essential safeguard for federal employees’ collective bargaining rights in response to the Trump Administration’s sustained attacks on the federal workforce.

The Civil Service Reform Act (the Act) of 1978 codified federal employees’ rights to form and join unions and engage in collective bargaining, stating that “labor organizations and collective bargaining in the civil service are in the public interest.” Unfortunately, over the past two years, the Trump Administration has sought to dismantle federal employee rights. In May 2018, President Trump issued three Executive Orders aimed at reducing official time, restricting collective bargaining, and obstructing the union grievance process. After an initial District Court ruling enjoining many of the Executive Order provisions, the D.C. Circuit Court overruled the decision, holding that unions must first exhaust administrative remedies through the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). The Circuit Court denied a request to rehear the case, and the District Court’s injunction on the Executive Orders expired on October 2, 2019, leaving agencies free to implement the contested provisions.

Even before the injunction expired, OPM guidance encouraged agencies to bargain for proposals similar to the enjoined provisions. In order to do so, many agencies have resorted to circumventing the collective bargaining process altogether by engaging in “surface” bargaining – going through the bargaining process without meaningfully participating in negotiations – to reach the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), where the Trump-appointed panel has disproportionately ruled in favor of management.

Other agencies have refused to negotiate outright. While unions challenged these and other bad-faith bargaining techniques, the Trump Administration has curtailed many of their remedies. For example, there is no General Counsel at FLRA to prosecute unfair labor practice charges. President Trump’s nominee to fill the position is significantly underqualified and has a history of crafting anti-union policies at the Department of Health and Human Services. Therefore, the Circuit Court’s ruling makes it unlikely that federal employee unions will receive meaningful or timely relief from the Trump Administration’s policies.

In June, the House passed its appropriations package with a provision to retroactively block agencies from implementing any collective bargaining agreement that has not been mutually and voluntarily agreed to by all parties, unless it was the result of binding arbitration. This will restore the collective bargaining process and require agencies to return to the bargaining table to engage in good-faith negotiations. Without this protection, unions will be locked into unreasonable and unfair contracts for the foreseeable future. 

These actions are poised to cause long-term damage to the foundations of our civil service. With almost a third of federal workers eligible to retire in the next five years, it is more important than ever that the federal government focus on recruiting and retaining the best employees. Robust labor unions are a hallmark of competitive workplaces – they lead the fight for better benefits, protections, and working conditions. The Trump Administration’s anti-union agenda undermines the government’s ability to attract talented workers and demoralizes workers currently in public service. The Administration’s actions also imperil scientific integrity across agencies – lack of adequate union representation makes it easier for agencies to politicize scientific roles and silence dissenting opinions. 

Furthermore, as the country’s largest unionized employer, the federal government sets the tone for labor-management relations across the country. At a time when the right to unionize in both the public and private sectors is increasingly under attack, we must affirm our support for workers and labor rights. 

We appreciate your attention to this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or require additional information.


###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to explain its decision to reduce payments to Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) employees who have declined to relocate to Kansas City following the Trump Administration’s slapdash decision to move the two key research agencies out of Washington D.C.

“We are troubled by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to lower VSIP payments by such a large amount, and we have serious concerns about the timing of this announcement and the burden it places on federal workers who have already endured significant hardship throughout this rushed relocation process,” the Senators wrote.

“This expedited timeline places an undue burden on these employees who were led to believe they would be offered buyouts at or near the federal maximum,” the Senators continued. “USDA has failed to explain why employees were not notified earlier that VSIP offers would be significantly less than $25,000, considering the agency already knew that more than half of ERS and NIFA employees had declined to relocate by the time VSIP applications were due. We are troubled that USDA did not relay this information to its employees sooner considering the impacts this decision can have on an individual’s career.”

On June 13, USDA informed ERS and NIFA employees that only a limited number of Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIPs) would be available to those who would not be relocating to the Kansas City region. Then, nearly two months later, employees found that the USDA had reduced their VSIP offers from $25,000 to $10,000, or $15,000 less than what is permitted, and often standard, under federal law. To make matters worse, employees were only given six days to accept this reduced payment, or make the life-altering decision of relocating across the country.

In their letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the Senators reiterated their opposition to the proposed relocation while demanding that federal employees be treated with dignity and respect should relocation plans move forward. They also asked a series of questions, including how much USDA has budgeted for VSIP payments, why USDA was not prepared to offer the maximum buyout payment to employees, and why employees were not notified that the maximum buyout payment would be less than the federal maximum.

The Senators have been strong opponents of the USDA’s unnecessary relocation of ERS and NIFA. Earlier this year, Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen introduced legislation to bar the research agencies from leaving the National Capital Region. In May, they joined other members of Congress representing the National Capital Region in urging Secretary Perdue not to relocate the research agencies.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write today concerning the recent issuance of Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment (VSIP) acceptance letters to Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) employees that offer $15,000 less than what is permitted under federal law and what is standard in nearly all other cases. We are troubled by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to lower VSIP payments by such a large amount, and we have serious concerns about the timing of this announcement and the burden it places on federal workers who have already endured significant hardship throughout this rushed relocation process.

On June 13, 2019, USDA informed ERS and NIFA employees that a limited number of VSIPs would be available to individuals who declined to relocate to the Kansas City Region by September 30, 2019. Employees were subsequently given a deadline of July 15, 2019 to notify USDA if they did not plan to relocate. Employees who wished to apply for buyouts were only given one week – July 22, 2019 through July 29, 2019 – to submit their applications. This is a short timeline to a make a decision like this, especially considering that employees who accept these payments cannot work for the federal government for at least five years or are forced to return this payment.

Then, on August 20, 2019, those ERS and NIFA employees who received their VSIP acceptance letters found that their payments had been reduced from $25,000 to $10,000 – a reduction of 60 percent. Applicants were given only six days to accept or decline this payment by August 26, 2019. This expedited timeline places an undue burden on these employees who were led to believe they would be offered buyouts at or near the federal maximum. Traditionally, federal employees who resign with a VSIP have received close to the maximum amount of $25,000. From Fiscal Year 2012 to May 2017, nearly 37,000 federal employees resigned with a VSIP for an average payment of $24,470.

USDA has stated that its decision to reduce the amount per VSIP was made in order to accommodate all employees who were eligible to receive the buyout. However, USDA has failed to explain why employees were not notified earlier that VSIP offers would be significantly less than $25,000, considering the agency already knew that more than half of ERS and NIFA employees had declined to relocate by the time VSIP applications were due.

We are troubled that USDA did not relay this information to its employees sooner considering the impacts this decision can have on an individual’s career.

In response to this announcement, we would like to pose the following questions regarding VSIP payments:

How much does USDA have budgeted for VSIP payments, and from what authority?

Why was USDA not prepared to offer the maximum buyout payment or near the maximum to employees when that appears to be standard procedure among federal agencies?

Why were employees not notified ahead of the VSIP application window that the maximum buyout payment would be significantly less than the federal maximum?

As senators representing the National Capital Region, we remain opposed to this proposed relocation. However, should this process continue to move forward, we expect federal employees be treated with dignity and respect. We urge you to reconsider this decision and offer these employees the maximum VSIP payment allowable by law and extend the deadline for employees to consider these payments.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), today wrote to Acting Director Russell T. Vought to express grave concern over a new Trump Administration proposal that would, among other things, effectively end Congress’ ability to provide advice and consent over the individual responsible for establishing federal workforce policy and regulations. As part of a White House proposal sent to congressional leaders on Thursday, workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be transferred to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), thereby taking these crucial duties from a Senate-confirmed director and assigning them to an administrator appointed directly by the President. 

“We wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce,” the Senators wrote. “The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President. Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date.”

Last Thursday, May 16, the Trump Administration requested congressional authorization to merge the vast majority of OPM functions and responsibilities into the General Services Administration (GSA), including Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. A key component of this proposal involves transferring the role of establishing government-wide workforce policy to a new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within OMB, which rests under the authority of the Executive Office of the President. This move would remove the Senate’s ability to have pre-selection oversight over the individual responsible for setting policies and regulations that affect federal workers nationwide, therefore opening the doors for this, or a future Administration, to act with political motivation towards the federal workforce. 

In their letter to OMB, the Senators conveyed great concern about the possibility of allowing politically-motivated individuals to set policies that affect loyal public servants in apolitical career roles. They also questioned Acting Director Vought about the nature of this unprecedented decision and its effect on federal workers – and requested that no further action be taken until all questions are thoroughly addressed. These questions include:

  • What analysis has been conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors have been considered, and which perceived benefits were regarded as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • How can federal workers nationwide and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input was considered from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does this proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have been long-time, outspoken advocates for federal workers. In February, the Senators pressed OMB to implement the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees they worked to pass into law earlier in the year. Amid the partial federal government shutdown, the Senators took a series of actions to protect affected workers, including guaranteeing back pay for federal employees, urging back payfor contractors, introducing budget amendments to protect federal workers, and urging OPM to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance for federal employees.

 

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

May 20, 2019

 

The Honorable Russell T. Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

Executive Office of the President

Washington, DC 20503

 

Dear Acting Director Vought:

We write today in response to your proposal to merge the functions and responsibilities of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) within the General Services Administration (GSA). Specifically, we wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce.

In your letter to Congress dated May 16, 2019, you outline a proposal to transfer the “vast majority” of OPM’s current mission to GSA. As you note, this would include Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. The proposal would also create an Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which would assume the workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by OPM.

We have serious concerns with housing this new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Executive Office of the President, and having it run by an Administrator appointed directly by the President and without Senate confirmation. Your proposal details that this Office is to, among other functions, “provide overall strategic direction and coordination of workforce policy and regulations for all Executive agencies, other than the Government Accountability Office.” The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President.

Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date. To that end, we ask that you provide responses to the following questions:

  • What analysis have you conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors did you consider, and which perceived benefits did you regard as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • The civil service system is statutorily required to be apolitical and merit-based. However, this proposal would significantly impede Congress’ ability to conduct oversight over this matter by no longer allowing the Senate to provide advice and consent over the individual directly responsible for setting all federal workforce policy and regulations. How can federal workers and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input did you consider from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does your proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

As a first step in conducting oversight of this dramatic proposal, our federal workforce is owed answers to these questions. Until the aforementioned questions have been thoroughly addressed and the authorities under which you are proposing such actions are clearly articulated, we respectfully request that you take no further action on this or any related matter.

We request your reply by the end of this month. We will continue to actively monitor the Administration’s explanation of this proposal to other Members of Congress and to the public, and look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), today wrote to Acting Director Russell T. Vought to express grave concern over a new Trump Administration proposal that would, among other things, effectively end Congress’ ability to provide advice and consent over the individual responsible for establishing federal workforce policy and regulations. As part of a White House proposal sent to congressional leaders on Thursday, workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be transferred to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), thereby taking these crucial duties from a Senate-confirmed director and assigning them to an administrator appointed directly by the President.

“We wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce,” the Senators wrote. “The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President. Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date.”

Last Thursday, May 16, the Trump Administration requested congressional authorization to merge the vast majority of OPM functions and responsibilities into the General Services Administration (GSA), including Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. A key component of this proposal involves transferring the role of establishing government-wide workforce policy to a new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within OMB, which rests under the authority of the Executive Office of the President. This move would remove the Senate’s ability to have pre-selection oversight over the individual responsible for setting policies and regulations that affect federal workers nationwide, therefore opening the doors for this, or a future Administration, to act with political motivation towards the federal workforce.

In their letter to OMB, the Senators conveyed great concern about the possibility of allowing politically-motivated individuals to set policies that affect loyal public servants in apolitical career roles. They also questioned Acting Director Vought about the nature of this unprecedented decision and its effect on federal workers – and requested that no further action be taken until all questions are thoroughly addressed. These questions include:

What analysis has been conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors have been considered, and which perceived benefits were regarded as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?

  • How can federal workers nationwide and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input was considered from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does this proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have been long-time, outspoken advocates for federal workers. In February, the Senators pressed OMB to implement the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees they worked to pass into law earlier in the year. Amid the partial federal government shutdown, the Senators took a series of actions to protect affected workers, including guaranteeing back pay for federal employees, urging back pay for contractors, introducing budget amendments to protect federal workers, and urging OPM to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance for federal employees.

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

May 20, 2019

The Honorable Russell T. Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

Executive Office of the President

Washington, DC 20503

Dear Acting Director Vought:

We write today in response to your proposal to merge the functions and responsibilities of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) within the General Services Administration (GSA). Specifically, we wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce.

In your letter to Congress dated May 16, 2019, you outline a proposal to transfer the “vast majority” of OPM’s current mission to GSA. As you note, this would include Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. The proposal would also create an Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which would assume the workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by OPM.

We have serious concerns with housing this new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within the Executive Office of the President, and having it run by an Administrator appointed directly by the President and without Senate confirmation. Your proposal details that this Office is to, among other functions, “provide overall strategic direction and coordination of workforce policy and regulations for all Executive agencies, other than the Government Accountability Office.” The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President.

Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date. To that end, we ask that you provide responses to the following questions:

  • What analysis have you conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors did you consider, and which perceived benefits did you regard as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • The civil service system is statutorily required to be apolitical and merit-based. However, this proposal would significantly impede Congress’ ability to conduct oversight over this matter by no longer allowing the Senate to provide advice and consent over the individual directly responsible for setting all federal workforce policy and regulations. How can federal workers and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input did you consider from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does your proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

As a first step in conducting oversight of this dramatic proposal, our federal workforce is owed answers to these questions. Until the aforementioned questions have been thoroughly addressed and the authorities under which you are proposing such actions are clearly articulated, we respectfully request that you take no further action on this or any related matter.

We request your reply by the end of this month. We will continue to actively monitor the Administration’s explanation of this proposal to other Members of Congress and to the public, and look forward to your reply.

 Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine are celebrating the culmination of their successful efforts to get federal employees in Virginia Beach and Norfolk a much-deserved pay raise, as the President signed an executive order that designates a locality pay adjustment for Hampton Roads. This adjustment will increase salaries for approximately 30,400 Virginians in Virginia Beach and Norfolk in order to better reflect the rising costs of living in the area. Warner and Kaine have pushed OPM to take the necessary steps to implement a pay raise for Hampton Roads federal employees. While federal employees in the region could have been receiving higher pay last year, OPM’s delay in implementing the pay scale adjustment exacerbated the situation for Virginia families who had been long-expecting a raise. 

“There is no doubt that hardworking federal employees deserve this long-overdue pay raise,” the Senators said. “As the cost of living has increased in Hampton Roads, we have long fought to provide federal workers in the area a needed boost. We’re hopeful that the new pay rates will offer peace of mind to those who work hard to serve our country.”

In 2017, Kaine and Warner wrote to the Acting Director of OPM to express concern that federal employees in the Hampton Roads region were led to believe they would see a pay raise for calendar year 2017 and asked that the agency take quick action to implement the pay scale adjustment. Senators Warner and Kaine have also cosponsored legislation to provide all federal workers a pay raise of 3.6 percent, an increase from FY19’s 1.9 percent average.

 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) – all members of the Senate Committee on the Budget – filed four amendments to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution aimed at protecting federal employees and contractors. The amendments would put the Senate on the record in favor of preserving retirement security for federal employees, and providing back pay to service contractors affected by the recent federal government shutdown. 

“Federal workers are the backbone of our government. If we want to recruit and retain top talent, we have to offer competitive pay and benefits, including retirement security,” said Sen. Warner, who added, “Though the shutdown itself may be over, for many federal contractors who went without pay for 35 days, the effects have been long-lasting. The Senate cannot forget about these workers, many of whom work paycheck to paycheck. We owe it to them to provide back pay.” 

“This year, federal workers experienced the longest shutdown in history. Their finances were pinched and their families were hurt. As we look at next year’s budget, my priority is to ensure that we’re protecting federal workers against pay cuts, preserving their retirement security, and trying to secure back pay for the service contractors impacted by government shutdowns,” said Sen. Kaine. 

“Our federal workers and federal contract employees provide crucial services to the American people. These amendments will protect the hard-earned paychecks and benefits of our federal employees and help secure back pay for contract workers harmed by the government shutdown,” said Sen. Van Hollen.

One amendment would ensure that federal workers are not shouldering more than their fair share of deficit reduction. This amendment would establish a scorekeeping rule that would prevent federal employees from being subject to increased retirement contributions meant to offset the cost of other, unrelated congressional spending. Despite there being no solvency concerns related to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), Congress has repeatedly increased the required federal employee contribution rate without offering any additional benefit. Combined with years of pay freezes, the increased requirements have resulted in de facto pay cuts for thousands of hardworking federal employees. 

Another amendment would preserve the retirement security of civil service employees by preventing further retirement benefit reductions and protecting the retirement plans that employees have spent decades building.

A third amendment would establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to provide back pay to service contractors affected by the recent government shutdown. The shutdown caused more than 800,000 employees and thousands of contractors to go without pay for 35 days, and while affected federal employees were assured that they would be compensated for their missed wages, their contractor colleagues – who perform essential functions like cleaning, food service, and security – were not given that same guarantee. This amendment would put the Senate on the record in support of making these workers whole, following the record-breaking shutdown. 

A fourth amendment would protect federal workers’ retirement benefits by striking a provision in the draft budget that could cut federal employees’ benefits by at least $15 billion.

Sens. Warner, Kaine, and Van Hollen have fiercely advocated for federal employees and contractors, especially during and following the government shutdown. In January, the Senators, along with several colleagues, introduced a bill to pay back federal contract workers after the shutdown. They also joined a bipartisan group of Senators earlier this month in urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to include contractor back pay in the upcoming disaster package. Additionally, the Senators pressed OMB in February for a timeline detailing the implementation of the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees that the Senators worked to pass into law earlier in the year. 

The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to begin its two-day markup on the FY20 budget resolution on Wednesday, March 27. Though nonbinding, the budget resolution provides a blueprint for future congressional action on federal programs.  

 

###

 

 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R Warner (D-VA) and a bipartisan group of 38 Senators sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee urging the inclusion of back pay for federal contract workers impacted by the government shutdown within the upcoming disaster relief package. While federal workers harmed by the government shutdown have since been compensated for their lost wages, federal contract employees –  including janitorial, food, and security services workers – who were furloughed or forced to accept reduced work hours have not. In their letter, the Senators urge the Appropriations Committee to include provisions to fix this wrong in upcoming appropriations legislation. 

The Senators write, “Contractor workers and their families should not be penalized for a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause.”

They continue, “Contractor employees perform jobs that are critical to the operations of our government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. These are often low-wage jobs that require workers to live paycheck to paycheck. As a result, the shutdown has left contractors struggling with unpaid rent and other mounting bills that many of these workers still cannot afford without back pay.”

The Senators close the letter stating, “There are bipartisan bills in both houses of Congress that would provide back pay to compensate contractor employees for their lost wages. As supporters of this effort, we urge you to include back pay for contractor employees in a supplemental appropriations bill for FY2019 or as part of the regular appropriations process for FY2020.”

In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Warner (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

In January, Senator Van Hollen joined Senator Tina Smith and others in introducing the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act, which now has 48 cosponsors in the Senate and 68 in the House of Representatives. Senator Van Hollen also led a letter with 33 Democratic Senators to the Office of Management and Budget to urge them to direct federal agencies to work with contractors to provide back pay to compensate low- and middle-income contractor employees for the wages they have lost during the shutdown. Under their existing authority, federal contracting officers could use provisions that allow them to modify the terms of the contract to work with contractors to provide back pay for employees who lost wages as a result of the government shutdown.

A copy of the letter is available here and the text of the letter is available below:

 

Dear Chairman Shelby and Vice Chairman Leahy:

 

As discussions proceed for upcoming appropriations bills, we urge you to include a provision to provide back pay to compensate federal contractor employees for the wages they lost as a result of not being able to report to work during the recent government shutdown. 

 

Contractor workers and their families should not be penalized for a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause. While federal employees received back pay at the end of the shutdown, federal contractors did not. Contractor employees perform jobs that are critical to the operations of our government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. These are often low-wage jobs that require workers to live paycheck to paycheck. As a result, the shutdown has left contractors struggling with unpaid rent and other mounting bills that many of these workers still cannot afford without back pay.

 

There are bipartisan bills in both houses of Congress that would provide back pay to compensate contractor employees for their lost wages. As supporters of this effort, we urge you to include back pay for contractor employees in a supplemental appropriations bill for FY2019 or as part of the regular appropriations process for FY2020.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.) and Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.) sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Russell Vought to request a timeline for the implementation of the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees that the Senators worked to pass into law earlier this year. While the pay increase was signed into law on February 15, the President has yet to sign an Executive Order to implement the increase. 

The Senators write, “As you know, Congress passed a 1.9% pay raise for federal workers, retroactive to January 1, in the Consolidated Appropriations Act that President Trump signed into law on February 15. However, federal worker paychecks still reflect the pay freeze that President Trump instituted for 2019 prior to passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.”

They continue, “More than 800,000 dedicated federal workers went without pay during the recent government shutdown. We ask that you provide a timeframe for when these civil servants will see this modest cost-of-living adjustment in their paycheck.”

Earlier this year, the Senators fought for the inclusion of this modest cost of living adjustment in the budget funding agreement. The full text of the letter is available here and below. 

 

Dear Mr. Vought:

We are writing to inquire about the status and timeline for implementing the 1.9% pay raise for federal workers that Congress enacted in legislation to fund the government for fiscal year 2019. 

As you know, Congress passed a 1.9% pay raise for federal workers, retroactive to January 1, in the Consolidated Appropriations Act that President Trump signed into law on February 15. However, federal worker paychecks still reflect the pay freeze that President Trump instituted for 2019 prior to passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.

More than 800,000 dedicated federal workers went without pay during the recent government shutdown. We ask that you provide a timeframe for when these civil servants will see this modest cost-of-living adjustment in their paycheck.

Thank you for your time and attention on this important matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

 

 

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) today in urging the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to do everything in its power to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance coverage for federal employees affected by the partial government shutdown. In a letter to OPM, the Senators stood up for the federal employees who risk losing their coverage unless they pay out of pocket for premiums that would usually be deducted from their paychecks.

“Your guidance to employees has been insufficient and fails to account for the significant financial strain already placed on these employees and their families,” wrote the Senators. “If the status quo persists, you are undoubtedly risking the health and wellness of federal workers, their spouses, and children enrolled in federal vision and dental plans. We have already heard from individuals who are worried about what this will mean for them and their health care needs.”

“We believe it is unreasonable to expect unpaid employees to take on this financial responsibility,” continued the Senators. “Instead, we ask that you immediately work with federal contractors administering these dental and vision benefits to develop alternative payment arrangements that ensure continuous coverage at no risk of terminated benefits. In addition, we ask that – upon any such agreement – you immediately reissue guidance to employees who are in jeopardy of having their benefits terminated.”

OPM recently announced that many federal employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program will be billed directly for their premiums after the date of their second missed pay period – as soon as this Friday. This notice places additional financial pressure on strained government employees who are already struggling to pay for expenses like childcare and mortgages.

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

January 23, 2019

Margaret Weichert

Acting Director

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20415

Dear Acting Director Weichert:

We write today concerning federal employees that may lose their dental and vision health insurance benefits as a result of the government shutdown. As you may know, if the current lapse in government funding continues more than 800,000 federal employees will miss their second pay period. From this time forward – federal employees with dental and vision insurance must also begin to pay their premiums directly to BENEFEDS or risk having their coverage terminated.

Recent guidance from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to federal employees’ enrolled in the BENEFEDS dental and vision plans states:

“Payroll deductions will cease for any employee that does not receive pay. BENEFEDS will generate a bill to enrollees for premiums when no payment is received for two consecutive pay periods. The enrollee should pay premiums directly billed to him/her on a timely basis to ensure continuation of coverage.”

The above guidance will require federal employees to tap into their savings and pay these costs or risk having their coverage terminated. We are alarmed that unpaid federal employees will be required to incur this additional financial hardship during a time when they can least afford it. This is unacceptable.

Your guidance to employees has been insufficient and fails to account for the significant financial strain already placed on these employees and their families. If the status quo persists, you are undoubtedly risking the health and wellness of federal workers, their spouses, and children enrolled in federal vision and dental plans. We have already heard from individuals who are worried about what this will mean for them and their health care needs. We also understand that certain insurers are willing to allow individuals to continue their coverage without payment, and we encourage OPM to continue to work with all insurers to help members maintain continuity of coverage.

We believe it is unreasonable to expect unpaid employees to take on this financial responsibility. Instead, we ask that you immediately work with federal contractors administering these dental and vision benefits to develop alternative payment arrangements that ensure continuous coverage at no risk of terminated benefits. In addition, we ask that – upon any such agreement – you immediately reissue guidance to employees who are in jeopardy of having their benefits terminated.

Thank you for your attention to this letter. If our offices can be further helpful in resolving this matter please do not hesitate to contact us. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in introducing legislation to secure back pay for the federal contractor service employees who continue to go without pay during the government shutdown. The bill—the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act—aims to help low-wage federal contractor employees—including janitorial, food, and security services workers—who have been furloughed or forced to accept reduced work hours as a result of the government shutdown. 

“Thousands of people across the Commonwealth are out of a job right now because of President Trump’s unnecessary, destructive shutdown. Right now many low- and middle-wage federal contractors – whose paychecks often depend on the number of hours they work – are worrying about how they’ll afford to keep the lights on or pay their rent. Congress has already passed legislation to secure back pay for federal workers. Federal contractors – especially those who are already working paycheck to paycheck – deserve some peace of mind too. This important bill will ensure that federal service contractors, who work side-by-side with federal employees, get the pay they missed out on because of President Trump’s reckless shutdown,” Warner said

“Just like federal employees, federal contractors work hard to keep our government running. So many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and this painful shutdown has meant that many of them can't afford to pay their bills. This legislation is an effort to ensure that these contractors who have been denied pay during a shutdown they had no role in causing receive the pay they deserve,” Kaine said.

The Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act would provide financial relief for eligible federal service contractors missing pay during the shutdown by:

  • Completely replacing missed wages for workers making less than $50,200 per year (twice the poverty level for a family of four.)
  • Compensating workers earning more than $50,200 per year up to the $50,200 threshold ($965 per week.)
  • Restoring paid leave for workers who were required by the contractor to use it.

The bill appropriates funding for federal agencies to adjust the price accordingly of any contracts impacted by the shutdown. By building on existing contract review and approval processes, the bill provides financial relief for lower-wage workers without creating new administrative or financial burdens for contractors. Eligible employees include those covered under the Service Contract Act (which governs federal service contracts) and the Davis-Bacon Act (which governs federally-funded construction projects). Although the Service Contract Act does not apply to “executive, administrative, or professional” employees, they would be eligible for back pay under the bill.

The bill is also supported by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

 

Read a summary of the bill HERE.


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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) led a letter with U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) to President Trump urging him to meet with federal workers suffering from the impacts of the shutdown. 

The Senators write, “We are writing to ask that you meet with some of the federal civil servants who are either working without pay or locked out of their job as a result of the government shutdown. We believe that you would benefit from listening to their stories.”

They continue, “When asked about the situation facing federal workers, you said, ‘I can relate. I'm sure the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do.’ Some federal workers – like millions of Americans – live paycheck-to-paycheck. According to the Federal Reserve, 40% of Americans cannot pull together $400 for an emergency, without going into debt or selling something. Speaking with some of the workers who cannot afford to miss a paycheck may help you better relate to the adjustments you expect them to make for your shutdown.”

The Senators closed the letter stating, “You already met a few carefully handpicked federal workers who support your position of shutting down the government to demand taxpayer dollars for a border wall. But the vast majority of federal workers oppose your shutdown, and we hope you will listen to them as well. Most of all, we hope that you will swiftly end this unnecessary and damaging shutdown.”

The full text of the letter is available here and below. 

 

Dear President Trump: 

We are writing to ask that you meet with some of the federal civil servants who are either working without pay or locked out of their job as a result of the government shutdown. We believe that you would benefit from listening to their stories. 

You have said that you are, “proud to shut down the government.” Earlier, you tweeted about the need for a “good shutdown.” We have spoken to federal workers who will not be able to afford to keep their home, purchase their medication, or put money in their child’s school lunch account if this shutdown continues. These civil servants are proud of their jobs, and this government shutdown is preventing them from doing important work for the American people. If you heard directly from them, it would be clear that there is no such thing as a good government shutdown.

When asked about the situation facing federal workers, you said, “I can relate. I'm sure the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do.” Some federal workers – like millions of Americans – live paycheck-to-paycheck. According to the Federal Reserve, 40% of Americans cannot pull together $400 for an emergency, without going into debt or selling something. Speaking with some of the workers who cannot afford to miss a paycheck may help you better relate to the adjustments you expect them to make for your shutdown.

You already met a few carefully handpicked federal workers who support your position of shutting down the government to demand taxpayer dollars for a border wall. But the vast majority of federal workers oppose your shutdown, and we hope you will listen to them as well. Most of all, we hope that you will swiftly end this unnecessary and damaging shutdown.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined 32 colleagues in writing to the Trump Administration urging them to direct federal agencies to work with contractors to pay low- and middle-income employees for the wages they have lost during the shutdown. The Senators point out that federal contracting officers typically have existing authority that allows them to modify the terms of contracts, and they are encouraging them to do so.  

The Senators write, “Contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause. Low-wage service contract workers perform jobs that are absolutely vital to the government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues.”

They continue, “After past shutdowns, contractor employees have generally not received back pay. In addition to our fight to protect federal workers who are being hurt by this shutdown, we are committed to righting this wrong for contractor employees.”

The Senators close the letter, writing, “We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that contractor employees get the back pay that they deserve by providing clear directions for agencies and contractors to do so.”

In addition to Warner and Kaine, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Doug Jones (D-AL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Christopher A. Coons (D-DE), and Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT).

The text of the letter is available below and here.

 

Dear Mr. Vought:

We are writing to urge you to direct federal agencies to work with contractors to provide back pay to compensate low- and middle-income contractor employees for the wages they have lost as a result of not being able to report to work during this government shutdown.

Contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause. Low-wage service contract workers perform jobs that are absolutely vital to the government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues.

After past shutdowns, contractor employees have generally not received back pay. In addition to our fight to protect federal workers who are being hurt by this shutdown, we are committed to righting this wrong for contractor employees. Government contracts typically have provisions to modify the terms of the contract. Federal contracting officers should use these provisions to work with contractors to provide back pay for employees who lost wages as a result of the government shutdown.

Providing back pay to these low- and middle-income contractor employees who are furloughed by their employers is the right thing to do, and it is in the federal government's best interest to provide funding to the extent necessary to ensure that contractors deliver back pay to their workers. Contractor employees cannot afford the chaos and uncertainty of government shutdowns, and some of these workers may seek other jobs if back pay is not provided to compensate for shutdown-related losses. 

Most of all, this wasteful and destructive government shutdown must come to an end. We all support the legislation passed by the House of Representatives to reopen the government, which mirrors legislation that previously passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. 

We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that contractor employees get the back pay that they deserve by providing clear directions for agencies and contractors to do so.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

 

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Washington – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) to introduce the Federal Employee Civil Relief Act, legislation that would protect federal workers and their families from foreclosures, evictions, and loan defaults during a government shutdown. 

“With each day that passes during President Trump’s shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are worrying about how they will pay for their bills even though their paychecks have stopped coming in,” said Sen. Warner. “This important legislation ensures that federal workers don’t face repercussions for making the hard choice between paying for basic necessities and paying their student loans. This unnecessary shutdown is already hurting federal workers, they don’t need additional hardships that could impact their financial future.”

The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act addresses the real threat of federal workers losing their homes, falling behind on student loans and other bills, having their car repossessed, or losing their health insurance because they have been furloughed during a shutdown or required to work without pay. Modeled after the Servicemembers Relief Act, the legislation will prohibit landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors who are hurt by the government shutdown and unable to pay rent or repay loans. The bill would also empower federal workers to sue creditors or landlords that violate this protection. The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act would safeguard workers impacted by a shutdown from the following:

  • Being evicted or foreclosed;
  • Having their car or other property repossessed;
  • Falling behind in student loan payments;
  • Falling behind in paying bills; or
  • Losing their insurance because of missed premiums.

The protection would last during and 30 days following a shutdown to give workers a chance to keep up with their bills. The partial government shutdown, now in its third week, hurts hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors. Virginia alone is home to more than 170,000 federal workers.

Additional cosponsors of the bill include U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

The Federal Employee Civil Act has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA). 

 

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ASHINGTON – Twenty days into the federal government shutdown, the Senate has passed by unanimous consent a bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and three dozen senators to ensure federal and other government workers who have been impacted by the current federal government shutdown will receive their back pay. The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act stipulates that all employees shall be paid as soon as possible after the lapse in appropriations ends – this includes those forced to work without pay and those locked out of their jobs during the shutdown. The bill also clarifies that excepted employees who have scheduled previously approved leave occurring during an appropriations lapse may indeed take that leave without undue penalty.  It also clarifies that its provisions also apply to employees of the District of Columbia (DC) Government, D.C. Courts, and D.C. Public Defenders Service, who are also affected by federal government shutdowns. 

“On the eve of the first missed payday, the Senate has acted to make sure that federal employees get paid just as soon as the government reopens for business,” said Senator Warner. “I expect that the Democratic House will take up and pass this legislation in short order. Our federal workforce – Americans who dedicate their lives to serving this country – shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of this unnecessary shutdown. The President must allow the government to re-open for business immediately.”

“Yesterday I alerted both caucuses that I would object to Senators leaving for the weekend while 800,000 federal employees were on the cusp of losing out on pay Friday,” Senator Kaine said. “I am thankful that as a result we were able to engage in a discussion that will give those employees some measure of comfort that they will receive their paychecks when the shutdown is over. This is not the same thing as knowing when the shutdown will be over, or receiving their paychecks on time, but it is the right thing to do for us to show these hard working Americans we’re there for them.” 

“Federal workers are dedicated public servants who shouldn’t continue to suffer – working dangerous jobs without knowing when their next paycheck may come, or being forcibly furloughed and unable to carry out their mission – because of the government shutdown. Passage of our bill may not answer the question of when a paycheck will come, but it will guarantee that a paycheck will come when this shutdown finally ends,” said Senator Cardin. “We need to reopen the government immediately. Until we do, passage of our bill should be a sign of good faith and respect for federal workers, as well as a sign to creditors that our public servants will be made financially whole again. The House of Representatives should pass this legislation quickly and send it to the president, who has said he would sign it into law.”

“For three weeks, I’ve heard from the federal workers that I represent who are worried about how they will make ends meet if this shutdown continues. These hardworking men and women have nothing to do with the political gamesmanship that led to the Trump Shutdown, but they’ve had to pay the price,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen. “Today, the Senate has passed our legislation on a bipartisan basis to provide our federal workforce with the much-needed certainty that they will receive their paycheck when the shutdown ends. But they shouldn’t be without a paycheck at all – they should be at work. Now, we must work together to end this crisis and reopen the government without delay.”

“The partial government shutdown represents a failure to govern and harms not only those who need to interact with the closed agencies, but also hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families who don’t know when they will receive their next paycheck,” said Senator Collins.  “Civil servants bring dedication, competence, and experience to their work, and I appreciate all that they do for our government and our nation.  Our legislation would guarantee that they are paid retroactively as soon as appropriations are restored.  I am also continuing to discuss with the White House and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle ways to bring an end to the shutdown as quickly as possible so that furloughed federal employees can return to work.” 

Additional cosponsors of the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act are: Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Angus King (I-Maine), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

 

 

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