To mitigate the potential implications of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), it is entirely possible that federal government offices will close for a period of time. Although many unclassified tasks may be suitable for telecommuting, classified work cannot be performed outside a government-approved secure facility; as a result, non-essential classified work that must be performed in secure workspaces may be significantly disrupted. Many companies with extensive government contracts – and their employees – could find it difficult to weather a sustained interruption of operations.
In case normal operations for classified work must be suspended for an extended period of time, INSA recommends several steps to mitigate the impact of such measures on the Trusted Workforce:
- Government personnel should continue to receive their pay and benefits even if their workplace is closed due to health and safety reasons. The Office of Personnel Management, in February 7 guidance on Human Resources Flexibilities Available for Federal Employees and March 7 additional COVID-19 guidance, provided agencies with information on leave and workplace options that can be invoked during a coronavirus outbreak, including weather and safety leave. If necessary, Congress should guarantee federal employees back pay, as it did during previous government shutdowns.
- If government workers receive their normal pay during a disruption of operations, provisions should be made, either through statute or through OMB guidance, to provide normal compensation to federal contractors as well. This is not just a matter of fairness and equity for both components of the Trusted Workforce; it is also a way to ensure that federal contractors remain able to recruit and retain highly educated and skilled cleared personnel who can support government missions.
- The Acting Director of National Intelligence, as the government’s security executive agent, should issue guidance that financial difficulties incurred as a result of a work stoppage should not be treated as derogatory factors affecting workers’ security clearances.
- Mirroring steps taken in the commercial sector, federal employees and contractors who must report to work to undertake critical national security functions should be encouraged to replace meetings with secure video conferences and secure conference calls whenever possible.
The men and women of the Trusted Workforce are committed to advancing the nation’s security every day. In the face of an unprecedented public health emergency, the federal government should take steps to look out for their health, safety, and financial security.