oversight

Assessment of the Department's Reconstitution Plans Following COVID-19

Published by the Department of Education, Office of Inspector General on 2020-12-14.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

              U.S. Department of Education
              Office of Inspector General




Assessment of the Department’s
Reconstitution Plans Following
COVID-19
December 14, 2020
ED-OIG/S20DC0008
NOTICE
Statements that managerial practices need improvements, as well as other conclusions
and recommendations in this report, represent the opinions of the Office of Inspector
General. The appropriate Department of Education officials will determine what
corrective actions should be taken.

In accordance with Freedom of Information Act (Title 5, United States Code,
Section 552), reports that the Office of Inspector General issues are available to
members of the press and general public to the extent information they contain is not
subject to exemptions in the Act.
                          UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
                                         OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL

                                                                                                                      Audit Services




December 14, 2020


TO:           Denise L. Carter
              Acting Assistant Secretary
              Office of Finance and Operations

FROM:         Bryon S. Gordon /s/
              Assistant Inspector General for Audit

SUBJECT:      Final Inspection Report, “Assessment of the Department’s Reconstitution Plans Following
              COVID-19,” Control Number ED-OIG/S20DC0008


Attached is the subject final inspection report that consolidates the results of our assessment of the U.S.
Department of Education’s reconstitution plans following COVID-19. We have provided an electronic
copy to your audit liaison officer. We received your comments responding to our draft report.

U.S. Department of Education policy requires that you develop a final corrective action plan within
30 days of the issuance of this report. The corrective action plan should set forth the specific action
items and targeted completion dates necessary to implement final corrective actions on the findings and
recommendations contained in this final report. Corrective actions that your office proposes and
implements will be monitored and tracked through the Department’s Audit Accountability and
Resolution Tracking System.

In accordance with the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, the Office of Inspector General is
required to report to Congress twice a year on the reports that remain unresolved after 6 months from
the date of issuance.

We appreciate your cooperation during this review. If you have any questions, please contact Michele
Weaver-Dugan at (202) 245-6941 or Michele.Weaver-Dugan@ed.gov.

Attachment




                                400 MARYLAND AVENUE, S.W., WASHINGTON, DC 20202-1510

                Promoting the efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity of the Department’s programs and operations.
Table of Contents
Results in Brief .................................................................................................................... 1
Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 3
Finding. The Department Generally Incorporated Available Guidance, Which was
Intended to Provide for a Safe and Gradual Return to Federal Offices, in Its Workplace
Reconstitution Plan ............................................................................................................. 5
Appendix A. Scope and Methodology............................................................................... 18
Appendix B. Acronyms and Abbreviations........................................................................ 19
Office of Finance and Operations Comments ................................................................... 20
              Results in Brief
              What We Did
              The objective of our inspection was to assess the U.S. Department of Education’s
              (Department) plans and procedures for returning employees to the federal office in the
              wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including what existing guidance the Department
              considered when developing its plans and procedures. Specifically, we reviewed the
              Department’s reconstitution plans and procedures in response to the coronavirus
              pandemic and described how the Department developed these plans. This also included
              noting whether the Department’s plans appear to be in alignment with existing
              guidance and noting any apparent weaknesses in the plan with regard to the guidance.

              What We Found
              We found that the Department generally incorporated available guidance, which was
              intended to provide for a safe and gradual return to federal offices, in its Workplace
              Reconstitution Transition Plan (Reconstitution Plan). The Department developed a
              Reconstitution Plan that is based on White House guidelines and Office of Management
              and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) guidance. The
              Department’s Reconstitution Plan, along with a Reconstitution Plan Frequently Asked
              Questions (FAQs) document, incorporates practices from the Centers for Disease
              Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and
              Health Administration (OSHA). However, we noted that the Department’s
              Reconstitution Plan does not address anti-retaliation as recommended in OSHA
              guidance. In addition, we found that the Department did not periodically reassess and
              update self-screening questions as necessary in its Reconstitution Plan as suggested by
              OMB.

              The Department’s Reconstitution Plan was developed between the Office of Finance
              and Operations (OFO), senior leaders across the Department, the Deputy Secretary of
              Education (Deputy Secretary), and the Secretary of Education (Secretary). The Acting
              Assistant Secretary of OFO took the lead on developing the Department’s Reconstitution
              Plan. With the support of senior leadership, the Acting Assistant Secretary was able to
              leverage available resources to discuss ideas, best practices, and receive real-time input
              and feedback to develop what was described by OFO’s Director of the Workforce
              Relations Division as an employee-focused plan. By developing a Reconstitution Plan
              that incorporates available guidance, the Department is helping to provide for a safe
              and gradual return of federal employees to federal offices. The Department is also in a
              better position to continue its mission in addition to its critical role to assist and lead
              national recovery efforts in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.



U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                       1
              What We Recommend
              We recommend that the Department update its Reconstitution Plan to address anti-
              retaliation, including practices for ensuring that no adverse or retaliatory action is taken
              against an employee who adheres to guidelines or raises workplace safety and health
              concerns. Further, we recommend that the Department reassess self-screening
              questions and update the information in the Reconstitution Plan as necessary, or
              include a link in the self-assessment section of the Reconstitution Plan to the relevant
              CDC guidance for employees to access and reference.

              We provided a draft of this inspection report to OFO for comment. In its response, OFO
              noted it will draft and implement the appropriate action plans to address the
              recommendations, including continuing to monitor CDC guidance and updating the
              Department’s Reconstitution Plan accordingly.

              We did not make any substantive changes to the report as a result of OFO’s comments.
              OFO provided clarification regarding its response to a suggestion made by OMB that was
              referenced in our draft report, for which we made corresponding edits. The full text of
              OFO’s response is included at the end of this report.




U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                         2
                Introduction
                Background
                The outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), a novel—or new—strain of
                coronavirus to which the public does not have immunity, was first reported on
                December 31, 2019, in Wuhan, China. A respiratory illness that can spread from person-
                to-person, the virus quickly spread around the globe, to include the United States. On
                January 31, 2020, the Secretary of Health and Human Services declared a public health
                emergency for the United States, and on March 11, 2020, the World Health
                Organization characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic.

                In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in order to limit social contact and slow the
                spread of the virus, nearly all States, as well as many localities, implemented policies
                that had the effect of limiting certain economic activities. Many businesses and
                organizations limited, substantially altered, or ceased operations in response to falling
                demand or in order to reduce the risk of contagion among their employees, including
                the federal government. 1

                On April 16, 2020, the White House issued guidelines on three phases for reopening
                titled, “Opening Up America Again” (National Guidelines). On April 20, 2020, OMB and
                OPM issued joint guidance in a memorandum titled, “Aligning Federal Agency
                Operations with the National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again” (OMB/OPM
                M-20-23), to assist agencies with a gradual, safe, transition to normal operations.

                On June 15, 2020, the Subcommittee on Government Operations within the House
                Committee on Oversight and Reform requested that the Department’s Office of
                Inspector General examine the Department’s plans and procedures for returning
                employees to federal offices in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 2 It specifically
                requested that the Office of Inspector General conduct a review of whether the
                Department and its managers are employing best practices and existing guidance when




1
 Beginning in February, a month before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak
a pandemic, OMB and OPM began facilitating the first-ever transition to Federal government-wide
maximum telework.
2
 The Subcommittee on Government Operations within the House Committee on Oversight and Reform
sent letters to 24 federal agency Inspectors General requesting that they review their agencies’ plans for
returning employees to federal offices.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                        3
                deciding whether or when to require federal employees and contractors to return to
                federal office buildings.

                Department of Education Structure and COVID-19 Response

                The Department of Education consists of 17 principal operating components. 3 The
                Secretary is responsible for the overall direction, supervision, and coordination of all
                activities of the Department. The Deputy Secretary assists the Secretary in the discharge
                of Secretarial duties and responsibilities. OFO serves as a principal advisor to the
                Secretary and senior officials. OFO is currently led by an Acting Assistant Secretary and is
                comprised of seven service area organizations. The Office of Security, Facilities and
                Logistics Services within OFO oversees the Department’s physical, personnel, and
                classified information security programs as well as oversight of the Department’s
                Continuity of Operations Program. The Office of Human Resources, within OFO,
                provides leadership and direction in the formulation and implementation of policies,
                programs, and systems to promote efficient and effective federal workforce
                management.

                The Department’s Reconstitution Plan was developed between OFO and senior leaders
                across the Department, to include the Deputy Secretary and the Secretary. The
                Secretary tasked the Deputy Secretary to convene, and serve as the coordinator of, a
                Coronavirus Working Group to plan and coordinate the Department’s response to the
                COVID-19 pandemic. 4 The Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO took the lead on the
                operational aspects of the response. 5 The objective was to develop a plan whereby the
                Department could reopen offices while keeping employees safe and continuing to
                support the Department’s mission.




3
  The Office of Inspector General is one of the 17 principal operating components. While the Office of
Inspector General coordinated with the Department to obtain the latest information about
preparedness, the Office of Inspector General developed a separate plan/response, which varied from
the Department’s Reconstitution Plan as needed to address unique Office of Inspector General mission
requirements.
4
 The Coronavirus Working Group has a programs aspect and operations aspect. The programs aspect
focuses on K-12 and higher education while the operations aspect focuses on the Department’s
reconstitution plans.
5
 Operations are a part of the Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO’s normal scope of duty. As a result, the
Department’s operations response naturally fell to the Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                           4
                Finding. The Department Generally Incorporated
                  Available Guidance, Which was Intended to
                  Provide for a Safe and Gradual Return to
                  Federal Offices, in Its Workplace
                  Reconstitution Plan
                We found that the Department generally incorporated available guidance, which was
                intended to provide for a safe and gradual return to federal offices, in its Reconstitution
                Plan. The Department developed a Reconstitution Plan and a Reconstitution Plan FAQs
                document. The Reconstitution Plan is based on the National Guidelines as well as
                OMB/OPM M-20-23. The Reconstitution Plan and FAQs incorporate practices from the
                CDC and OSHA. 6

                The National Guidelines establish a three-phased approach for re-opening America
                based on data-driven conditions each region or State should satisfy before proceeding
                to the next phased opening and also incorporates gating criteria which must be met in a
                State or county (in addition to core preparedness responsibilities) before proceeding to
                the phased reopening process. The National Guidelines state that during the phased
                reopening approach, employers should develop and implement appropriate policies, in
                accordance with Federal, State, and local regulations and guidance, and informed by
                industry best practices, regarding social distancing and protective equipment,
                temperature checks, testing, isolating, contact tracing, sanitation, use and disinfection
                of common and high-traffic areas, and business travel. In addition, the National
                Guidelines state employers should monitor the workforce for indicative symptoms, not
                allow symptomatic people to physically return to work until cleared by a medical
                provider, and develop and implement policies and procedures for workforce contact
                tracing following employee COVID tests during all phases. During Phase 1 and Phase 2,
                telework should be encouraged whenever possible and feasible with business
                operations; during Phase 3 employers should resume unrestricted staffing of worksites.




6
  The General Services Administration also recently made available a Return to Workplace Strategy Book
that can be used by agencies as a framework of considerations for returning to General Services
Administration owned and leased facilities. The Department noted that the Facilities Services Division
within the Office of Security, Facilities and Logistics Services reviewed a version of the book in July and
took it into account. The Facilities Services Division is currently reviewing the final version and will
identify actions to incorporate in the Department’s Reconstitution Plan as appropriate.



U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                          5
               Paralleling the National Guidelines, OMB and OPM released Memorandum M-20-23
               which provides the framework for agencies to take immediate actions to begin adjusting
               their operating status for a controllable, steady return to normal operations, and align
               agency operations through a gating period and the 3-Phase framework in the National
               Guidelines. OMB/OPM M-20-23 states that agency heads must make decisions in the
               following operational areas: geographic-based decisions; telework status guidelines;
               personnel guidelines; facilities, service, and operations guidelines; and federal employee
               and contractor travel guidelines. It also states that agencies should review the relevant
               CDC and U.S. Department of Labor guidance, as well as other appropriate resources,
               when developing and implementing new or modified policies and processes.

               The CDC released interim guidance for businesses and employers responding to COVID-
               19. 7 In addition to stating that employers should follow the National Guidelines, the CDC
               guidance states that employers and businesses should identify a workplace coordinator
               who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact at the workplace. The
               guidance also lists ways in which employers and businesses can prevent and reduce
               transmission among employees, maintain healthy business operations, and maintain a
               healthy work environment. Some of these items include actively encouraging sick
               employees to stay home; implementing flexible sick leave and supportive policies and
               practices; providing employees, customers, and visitors what they need to clean their
               hands and cover their coughs and sneezes; and performing routine cleaning and
               enhanced cleaning and disinfection after persons suspected/confirmed to have COVID-
               19 have been in the facility.

               OSHA guidance was released on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 and returning
               employees safely to work. 8 The OSHA guidance is advisory in nature and intended to
               assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace. The guidance provides
               recommended steps that all employers can take to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to
               COVID-19, such as preparing to implement basic infection prevention measures;
               developing policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick
               people; and developing, implementing, and communicating about workplace flexibilities
               and protections. It also focuses on the need for employers to develop and implement
               strategies for basic hygiene, social distancing, identification and isolation of sick
               employees, workplace controls and flexibilities, and employee training.



7
 CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-
19) dated May 2020.
8
 OSHA 3990-03 2020, “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” and OSHA 4045-06 2020,
“Guidance on Returning to Work.”

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                       6
                The Department’s Reconstitution Plan and FAQs

                The Department developed a single Reconstitution Plan to be applied to each of its
                office locations. In addition to being consistent across all locations, the Department’s
                plan is consistent across all principal operating components and applies to both
                Department employees and contractors. It follows OMB/OPM M-20-23 in establishing a
                three-phased plan for resuming normal operations.

                The Department’s Reconstitution Plan provides the primary framework for the
                Department’s transition back to normal operations. It is supported by the FAQs, which
                answer common questions about how the Department intends to execute its plan, and
                expanded workplace flexibilities that the Department made available to assist
                employees and managers in meeting the challenges of COVID-19. 9

                On May 29, 2020, the Department emailed to its staff its Reconstitution Plan. The email
                noted that a set of FAQs was made available on the Department’s intranet site. Since
                then, both documents have been made available on the Department’s intranet site and,
                according to OFO, have been updated to stay current.

                The scope of telework provisions are laid out in the Reconstitution Plan. The duration of
                telework depends on the Department’s progress through the Phases as laid out in the
                Reconstitution Plan. Under the Reconstitution Plan, Department employees have
                telework and expanded workplace flexibilities throughout Phases 1 and 2 and only when
                the Department enters Phase 3 will employees generally be expected to return to the
                office and resume normal telework schedules. 10

                Before entering Phase 1 of the Department’s Reconstitution Plan, geographic areas in
                which Department offices are located must meet the following gating criteria which
                parallel that of the National Guidelines and those set forth in OMB/OPM M-20-23:



9
 The Department also developed a Coronavirus Contingency Plan as a companion document to the
Department’s Continuity of Operations Plan, to be activated if needed. The Coronavirus Contingency
Plan serves as a tool to enable the Department to address and mitigate the impact of the virus while
ensuring mission essential functions and services continue. The Coronavirus Contingency Plan details the
different levels of telework to account for the risk of the disease and how to maintain mission essential
functions; it does not address reconstitution.
10
  A small number of employees and contractors involved in physical security, facilities, and Information
Technology support, among others, have remained at their duty stations throughout the pandemic.
Social distancing, masks, and weather and safety leave (to rotate those on duty), were employed during
this time. Some other employees have also chosen to return in offices that have moved to Phase 1.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                        7
                1. Stay-at-Home Orders: National Capital Region (District of Columbia, Maryland,
                   Virginia) and regional office States have modified emergency orders such that
                   employees can commute to and from work.
                2. Influenza-Like / COVID-Like Cases: Downward trajectory of influenza-like and
                   COVID-like cases for 14 days as determined by State/local jurisdictions.
                3. Documented COVID-19 Cases: Downward trajectory of documented cases within a
                   14-day period OR downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests
                   within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests) as determined by
                   State/local jurisdictions.
                4. Hospitals: Local hospitals are at normal capacity for treating patients without crisis
                   care AND jurisdictions have a robust healthcare worker testing program in place as
                   determined by State/local jurisdictions.
                5. Facilities Preparation: Cleaning services have been modified to align with the
                   prevailing CDC standards and appropriate supplies have been stocked at all
                   facilities (hand sanitizer, soap, disinfectant, cloth face coverings and disposable
                   gloves).

                The Department’s Reconstitution Plan notes that until the gating criteria have been met,
                maximum telework will remain in effect. Once the gating criteria have been met,
                Department offices will move to Phase 1 and employees will be allowed to transition
                back to their official worksites but will not be required to do so.

                Department offices will move to Phase 2 when schools and care providers have
                reopened. Employees may continue the transition back to their official worksites but
                will not be required to do so. During Phases 1 and 2, flexible work schedules and flexible
                telework schedules remain in effect. While the Department’s plan notes that employees
                in the vulnerable population category as outlined by the CDC, employees living with
                individuals in the vulnerable population, and those with dependent care responsibilities
                may continue to telework full time, the overall practice is to allow all employees the
                discretion to determine whether to return to the office during Phases 1 and 2.

                Department offices will move to Phase 3 when it is safe and appropriate to return to
                normal operations. 11 Under Phase 3, emergency flexible work schedules are no longer in
                effect and staff will resume normal telework schedules. All employees are to return to
                their regular onsite duty locations.




11
  The Department currently does not have a definition for this or any criteria to apply in determining
when it is “safe and appropriate” to return to normal operations in Phase 3. It plans to rely on
information from the White House, the OMB, and the CDC on when the country has transitioned to a
post-COVID phase and what that means for federal agencies.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                         8
                 The Reconstitution Plan states that the Department will continue to monitor State and
                 local conditions through all phases and will adjust accordingly. The FAQs state that if
                 gating metrics were to deteriorate sufficiently in a region, the affected Department
                 offices would adjust to a more restricted posture, potentially including a return to
                 maximum telework, if appropriate.

                 The Acting Assistant Secretary for OFO has primary decision-making authority as
                 supported by OFO staff. The decisions to open regional offices are made based on a
                 review of detailed regional data in accordance with the gating criteria. This includes
                 closely tracking regional COVID-19 data provided by GeoHEALTH, a resource provided
                 through a collaboration between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the
                 Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, we found that the Department
                 tracks data including the number of cases, number of new cases, and total number of
                 deaths by state. The Department also checks news and media outlets two to three times
                 a week to see how local conditions may impact a location’s move to a different phase.
                 Information collected by the Department covers a variety of topics including, but not
                 limited to, stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, mask mandates, school and business
                 closures and reopenings, and civil unrest.

                 While the Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO has the ultimate responsibility for deciding
                 to open a regional or field office, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary will be notified
                 prior to the announcement. Employees will be notified via an OFO alert email once their
                 office location clears the gating criteria applicable to a particular Phase.

                 OSHA guidance on returning to work 12 notes that employers’ reopening plans should
                 address anti-retaliation, including practices for ensuring that no adverse or retaliatory
                 action is taken against an employee who adheres to guidelines or raises workplace
                 safety and health concerns. We found that the Department’s Reconstitution Plan does
                 not address anti-retaliation. The Department’s Chief Human Capital Officer explained
                 that coming into the office is completely voluntary during Phase 1 and Phase 2. The
                 Chief Human Capital Officer noted that if a dispute over returning to the office occurs,
                 the Department will provide case-by-case support and the incident will go through the
                 normal employee relations channels and be tracked by the Department’s Workforce
                 Relations Group.




12
     OSHA 4045-06 2020, “Guidance on Returning to Work.”

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                             9
                As of November 20, 2020, Department facilities in 10 of its 12 regional office locations
                (83 percent) have cleared the gating criteria and entered Phase 1. 13 No regions have
                moved to Phase 2 or Phase 3.

                Safety Precautions

                Both the Reconstitution Plan and the FAQs discuss ways the Department is
                implementing safeguards and precautions to protect the health and safety of
                Department employees, contractors, vendors, and the visiting public. The Department is
                working with the General Services Administration and following CDC guidelines to make
                Department offices as safe as practicable.

                As described in the Department’s Reconstitution Plan, staff and visitors are not allowed
                into Department facilities if they have experienced any of a series of listed symptoms or
                may have been exposed to an illness; travel and work outside of Department buildings is
                limited; face coverings and social distancing are required; cleaning services have been
                modified to align with the prevailing CDC standards; and appropriate supplies are being
                procured for all facilities.

                    •   Facility Access – The Department’s Reconstitution Plan asks that employees,
                        contractors, and visitors conduct a self-assessment prior to heading to a
                        building. The FAQs state that the Department is not taking temperatures or
                        testing for COVID-19 at entry to the office; instead, employees will be required
                        to self-monitor. The FAQs state that per CDC guidelines, employees should stay
                        home: (1) if they feel ill in any way (particularly if they have a fever or other
                        symptoms of COVID-19); (2) if they believe they have been exposed to a person
                        who may have COVID-19; or (3) if for any other reason they believe they may
                        have been exposed to COVID-19.

                    •   Travel and Outside Work – The FAQs state the Department will follow CDC
                        guidance to determine whether it is safe for the employee to go into the office
                        after personal travel. Regarding work-related travel, employees may attend
                        outside conferences if travel is within existing Department guidelines, social
                        distancing guidelines can be followed, and the conference is in compliance with
                        prevailing guidance in its State. The Department’s Reconstitution Plan states
                        that essential travel will be approved on a case-by-case basis during Phase 1.



13
  For our purposes, the National Capital Region, the location of the Department’s headquarters, is
included in our count of the Department’s regional office locations. While there are 12 regional office
locations, there are 25 facilities in which the Department has space.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                          10
                       Essential travel will be determined based on state and local conditions in Phases
                       2 and 3.

                       Currently, employees are either working from home or from an office that has
                       entered Phase 1. Examples of situations where Department employees may
                       work outside of Department buildings are when conducting site visits or
                       attending live conferences; however, both activities are currently suspended.
                       Department officials noted that the Secretary, accompanied by a few staff, has
                       traveled and that while traveling, staff have observed social distancing,
                       appropriate hygiene practices, and used face coverings.

                   •   Social Distancing and Face Coverings - The phased approach to returning to
                       work will help to mitigate employees working close together. The FAQs note
                       that during Phases 1 and 2 there should be enough open desks to ensure that
                       seating is at least 6 feet apart and that employees should work with their
                       supervisor to resolve any concerns regarding office configurations or work
                       arrangements. First line supervisors will coordinate employee telework and
                       onsite schedules to ensure appropriate social distancing.

                       The Department’s Reconstitution Plan also notes that during Phases 1 and 2,
                       social distancing (6 feet) requirements will apply everywhere -- offices and
                       cubicles, elevators and stairwells, cafeterias and pantries, internal lobbies, and
                       external plazas. The Department stated that it has installed protective plexiglass
                       and social distancing indicators in appropriate locations. In addition, the FAQs
                       state that in-person meetings are limited to 10 persons or fewer so that social
                       distancing guidelines may be observed.

                       The Department’s Reconstitution Plan states that face coverings will be required
                       when entering a Department building and when within 6 feet of another
                       person.

                   •   Cleaning Services – The Director of the Office of Security, Facilities and Logistics
                       Services stated that the Department worked with the General Services
                       Administration to implement enhanced cleaning for regions in Phase 1. 14 This
                       includes wiping down high touch areas throughout the day and enhanced
                       cleaning in office kitchens. Conference rooms will be cleaned and disinfected


14
  The Department has not implemented above standard or enhanced cleaning for regions that have not
entered Phase 1; instead, the Department follows normal General Services Administration cleaning
processes. The Department pays additional costs for enhanced cleaning once a region enters Phase 1.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                         11
                       daily, and bathrooms will be cleaned and serviced throughout the day. In
                       addition, the Director noted that the Department has hired two additional
                       people in each of the Washington D.C. buildings and regional buildings that have
                       entered Phase 1 to complete extra custodial cleaning such as wiping down
                       elevator buttons, pantries, and sinks. The Director stated that cleaning is
                       provided through the General Services Administration and custodial contracts
                       and that the General Services Administration has modified its contracts to
                       ensure cleaning is performed within CDC guidelines. The Director confirmed that
                       all Department work sites are either federal owned space or commercial space
                       leased by the General Services Administration.

                   •   Supplies – Department officials noted that they purchased items deemed
                       appropriate based on what was regularly discussed in the news, CDC briefings,
                       and what they gleaned as best practices from OMB led COVID-19 calls with
                       other agencies. 15

                       The Department’s Reconstitution Plan notes that face coverings will be available
                       at building entrances for employees who do not have one. In addition, the
                       Department’s FAQs state that disinfectant will be available in several locations
                       on each office/floor. The Director of the Office of Security, Facilities and
                       Logistics Services confirmed that cloth masks were purchased and distributed to
                       principal operating components, and a number of disposable masks are
                       available at building entrances. The Director stated that disinfecting wipes and
                       hand sanitizer are available all over the buildings to include at building
                       entrances, in conference rooms, and at elevator banks. The Department
                       procured these materials via the General Services Administration Schedule and
                       on the open market, depending on availability.

                       The Department tracked the coordination of supplies and personal protective
                       equipment, consisting of hand sanitizer, soap, disinfectant, cloth face coverings,
                       and disposable gloves, as noted in the Reconstitution Plan’s gating criteria
                       above. According to the Director of the Office of Security, Facilities and Logistics
                       Services, the Department's Logistics Division performed on-site coordination for
                       National Capital Region facilities and coordinated with regional office personnel
                       to receive, distribute, and confirm supplies were in place. The Director stated




15
  The Deputy Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO participated on President’s Management
Council COVID calls hosted by OMB.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                        12
                      that if a supply is running low, an employee is able to report it to the facilities
                      help desk via phone or e-mail.

              COVID-19 Infection Protocol

              The Department’s COVID-19 Infection Protocol is also described in the Department’s
              Reconstitution Plan. Under the protocol, an employee is to notify their first line
              supervisor of a positive test result and begin home or medical facility quarantine, as
              advised by medical professionals. The FAQs further state that the employee is
              encouraged to telework until it is safe for them to return in the opinion of their doctor.
              In line with the National Guidelines, employees who have experienced a confirmed case
              of COVID-19 will need to provide documentation demonstrating that it is safe for them
              to return to the office.

              In the event that staff have, or may have, COVID-19, supervisors are to gather basic
              information about location and interactions of the sick staff member, such as where the
              staff member has been within Department facilities, and any Department personnel
              with whom they have been in contact during the preceding 14 days. If the employee
              tests positive for COVID-19 and has been in the office within the last 7 days, the
              surrounding area of the employee's space and the common spaces the employee could
              have contacted will be cleaned per CDC guidelines. The Executive Officer overseeing the
              impacted principal operating component will work with leadership to alert staff and
              evacuate the affected areas until they are cleaned and ready for occupancy again.

              In addition, the FAQs note that if an employee is exhibiting symptoms, supervisors may
              direct the employee to go home and should consult with their employee relations
              advisor for guidance. However, neither the Department’s Reconstitution Plan nor the
              FAQs include policies or procedures for immediately isolating an individual who has
              signs and/or symptoms of the virus. While the Department considered identifying rooms
              on each floor that could serve as an isolation area for COVID-19 cases, it believed this
              could lead to increased interaction and touches. As a result, the Department decided
              that the best course of action would be to get the symptomatic individual outside of the
              building as quickly possible.




U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                            13
               Additional Workplace Flexibilities

               In accordance with OPM guidance, 16 the Department expanded workplace flexibilities.
               The Department implemented an emergency expansion of work schedule flexibilities
               that is to remain in effect until rescinded by the Department. The purpose of the
               flexibilities is to assist employees and managers in meeting the challenges of COVID-19
               by providing a greater degree of scheduling flexibilities. A summary of the approved
               temporary emergency flexibilities was provided to Department employees. In addition,
               the Department released guidance on COVID-19 related sick leave flexibilities. It
               provides Department employees with Emergency Paid Sick Leave related to COVID-19,
               effective from April 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020. An employee is entitled to
               take Emergency Paid Sick Leave related to COVID-19 if the employee is unable to report
               to work or telework due to qualifying reasons related to COVID-19.

               We found that because senior leaders at the Department were supportive of an
               employee-focused plan, the Department was able to develop a Reconstitution Plan that
               incorporated available guidance and practices through a collaborative process with
               input from multiple groups. Specifically, Department leadership worked closely with
               OMB, OPM, and other Federal partner agencies to discuss thoughts, best practices, and
               receive feedback. In addition, the Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO, who was in charge
               of developing the Department’s Reconstitution Plan, engaged senior leaders across the
               Department and was supported by Finance and Operations staff who were able to
               research and gather information on available guidance and practices. The Department
               also received input and feedback from the Union for represented employees.

               Senior Leadership Support

               In late February 2020, the Secretary tasked the Deputy Secretary to convene the
               Coronavirus Working Group. As part of the Coronavirus Working Group, the Acting
               Assistant Secretary of OFO took the lead in developing a plan where the Department
               could reopen offices while keeping employees safe and continuing to support the
               Department’s mission. In addition, the Department’s internal website was updated in
               March 2020 to consolidate all COVID-19 resources. The landing page notes that the
               health and safety of all Department employees, and of those the Department serves,




16
  OPM released guidance on “Options for Telework-Eligible Employees with Caregiving Responsibilities,”
https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/covid-19/options-for-telework-eligible-employees-with-
caregiving-responsibilities/.



U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                     14
               are of top concern, and the Department’s leadership team is committed to helping to
               safeguard staff and stakeholders.

               The Workforce Relations Division, Office of Human Resources, OFO, was tasked with
               providing recommendations, input, and research regarding actions for reconstitution.
               The Director of the Workforce Relations Division stated that the Reconstitution Plan was
               approached from the viewpoint of the employee and determining what would be in the
               best interest of the agency while at the same time considering employee safety. The
               Director stated that if employees did not feel safe or were scared to work, then the
               mission of the Department would be impacted. The Director added that from the
               group’s perspective and OFO’s perspective, that was the driving force for developing an
               exceptionally employee-focused plan.

               External Collaboration

               The Deputy Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO participated on daily
               President’s Management Council COVID calls hosted by OMB. 17 According to the Acting
               Assistant Secretary of OFO, the calls included Deputy Secretaries across the government
               as well as CDC officials. The Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO stated they were able to
               share their thoughts and best practices during these calls. The Department also
               reviewed or was briefed on the plans of other agencies. In addition, the Department
               coordinated with OMB during the development of its Reconstitution Plan. The
               Department submitted a draft of its Reconstitution Plan to OMB for review and received
               feedback on May 8, 2020.

               According to the Acting Assistant Secretary for OFO, agencies were required to submit
               their draft to OMB for review, but not for approval. Once feedback was received, there
               was no requirement to send the final plan to OMB. During our review, we found that
               the Department generally agreed with and implemented the suggestions from OMB.
               However, we identified an instance where the Department did not fully address OMB’s
               comment. Specifically, OMB suggested that the Department reassess its self-screening
               questions or create a separate standard operating procedure, which the Department
               could periodically reassess and update as necessary, as there are now several new
               symptoms in the CDC guidelines. The Department updated the plan to include seven
               potential COVID-19 symptoms in line with the CDC guidance, as well as the CDC’s fever
               definition based on OMB’s suggestion. However, when asked if the Department has
               since reassessed and updated this information as necessary, the Acting Assistant
               Secretary responded that the Department has not updated the guidance, as it remains


 These calls began daily in March 2020; in April they went to three times a week. In May they went to
17

weekly, and across the summer went to every second week.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                     15
              correct and references the CDC as the authoritative source. The Acting Assistant
              Secretary stated that while there have been many changes to the CDC guidance, the
              simpler guidance to Department employees is consistent with the CDC’s core guidance.
              We reviewed the current list of coronavirus symptoms according to the CDC and
              compared them to what is noted in the Department’s Reconstitution Plan under the
              self-assessment section. We found that there are several symptoms on the CDC’s
              website that are not included in the Reconstitution Plan, some of which include the
              most common symptoms of the coronavirus according to the CDC. In addition, the CDC’s
              website notes that as it learns more about COVID-19, CDC will continue to update the
              list.

              Internal Collaboration

              The Workforce Relations Division was tasked with researching and collecting
              information regarding actions for reconstitution for senior leadership to consider. The
              Director of the Workforce Relations Division stated that this research included anything
              they could get their hands on -- guidance from the CDC, the Equal Employment
              Opportunity Commission, the White House, OPM, OMB; any legal guidance; state and
              local news where Department offices are located; news articles; and best practices used
              across the country and the world. The Director stated that they searched for any
              information they could find on how to best develop the Reconstitution Plan, how to
              keep employees safe, and what would work best for the Department.

              In addition to relying on the research collected by the Workforce Relations Division, the
              Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO consulted with Assistant Secretaries across the
              Department and briefed the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Senior Executive Service
              members, and Department Assistant Secretaries regularly during the development of
              the Department’s Reconstitution Plan, receiving feedback and edits along the way. The
              Acting Assistant Secretary of OFO also sought input from principal operating
              components. Offices were asked to submit ideas or questions regarding reopening to
              OFO to be considered while developing the plan. In addition, a COVID-19 inquiry email
              box was set up for employees with additional questions concerning the plan. Questions
              that are universal would be added to the FAQs document.

              By developing an employee-focused Reconstitution Plan that incorporates available
              guidance, the Department is helping to provide for a safe and gradual return of federal
              employees to federal offices. This in turn can limit social contact and slow the spread of
              the virus. By supporting and protecting Department employees, the Department is in a




U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                      16
               better position to continue its mission in addition to its critical role to assist and lead
               national recovery efforts in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 18

               Recommendations
               We recommend that the Acting Assistant Secretary for OFO:

               1.1   Ensures that the Department’s Reconstitution Plan addresses anti-retaliation,
                     including practices for ensuring that no adverse or retaliatory action is taken
                     against an employee who adheres to guidelines or raises workplace safety and
                     health concerns.

               1.2   Ensures that the Department reassesses the self-screening questions and updates
                     the information in the Reconstitution Plan as necessary, or includes a link to
                     relevant CDC guidance in the self-assessment section of the Department’s
                     Reconstitution Plan for employees to access and reference.

               Office of Finance and Operations Comments
               OFO stated that it will draft and implement the appropriate action plans to address the
               recommendations, including continuing to monitor CDC guidance and updating the
               Department’s Reconstitution Plan accordingly.

               In addition, OFO provided clarification regarding its response to OMB’s suggestion to
               update the self-screening questions in its Reconstitution Plan. OFO clarified that the
               Department agreed with OMB’s feedback and updated the plan accordingly to include
               seven potential COVID-19 symptoms in line with the CDC guidance, as well as CDC’s
               fever definition.

               OIG Response
               OIG acknowledges the clarification provided by OFO and has made corresponding edits.
               The edits did not result in any substantive changes to the report. OIG also acknowledges
               OFO’s plans to implement the appropriate action plans to address the
               recommendations.




18
  The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or, CARES Act, was signed into law on
March 27th, 2020. The CARES Act provides $30.75 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund to prevent,
prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                             17
              Appendix A. Scope and Methodology
              To answer our objective, we gained an understanding of the Department’s
              reconstitution plans and how the Department developed these plans. We reviewed
              applicable guidance from the White House, OMB, OPM, CDC, and OSHA. We also
              conducted interviews with OFO and other Department officials involved in the
              development of the Department’s plans for returning employees to federal offices. We
              obtained copies of e-mail correspondence, meeting agendas, and other documentation
              related to the Department’s reconstitution plans and procedures. We also reviewed
              Department responses to related information requests from the Government
              Accountability Office and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and
              Governmental Affairs.

              We reviewed the Department’s plans and procedures for returning employees to
              federal offices and compared them to existing guidance to determine if the
              Department’s plans had any apparent weaknesses or if the Department’s plans
              appeared to align with the guidance.

              Use of Computer-Processed Data
              While we reviewed whether the Department collected and tracked gating criteria data
              from electronic platforms such as GeoHEALTH, we did not utilize the data itself. We
              reviewed the data to determine the nature of information the Department collected
              and did not evaluate whether the Department appropriately made gating
              determinations using the data. Therefore, we determined that an assessment of the
              reliability of computer-processed data was not required.

              We conducted fieldwork at Department offices in Washington, D.C., from August 2020
              through November 2020. We provided our inspection results to OFO officials during an
              exit conference conducted on November 2, 2020.

              We conducted this inspection in accordance with the Council of the Inspectors General
              on Integrity and Efficiency’s “Quality Standards for Inspection and Evaluation” as
              appropriate to the scope of the inspection described above. Those standards require
              that we plan the work to obtain sufficient and appropriate data and other information
              to provide a reasonable basis for our conclusions. We believe that the information
              obtained provides a reasonable basis for the conclusions contained in the report.




U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                  18
              Appendix B. Acronyms and Abbreviations
                   CDC                   Centers for Disease Control and
                                         Prevention

                   COVID-19              Coronavirus Disease 2019

                   Department            U.S. Department of Education

                   Deputy Secretary      Deputy Secretary of Education

                   FAQs                  Workplace Reconstitution Transition
                                         Plan Frequently Asked Questions

                   National Guidelines   “Opening Up America Again”

                   OFO                   Office of Finance and Operations

                   OMB                   Office of Management and Budget

                   OMB/OPM M-20-23       “Aligning Federal Agency Operations
                                         with the National Guidelines for
                                         Opening Up America Again”

                   OPM                   Office of Personnel Management

                   OSHA                  Department of Labor Occupational
                                         Safety and Health Administration

                   Reconstitution Plan   Workplace Reconstitution Transition
                                         Plan

                   Secretary             Secretary of Education




U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                               19
           Office of Finance and Operations Comments
                     UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
                                      OFFICE OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS


                                                     December 4, 2020

TO:               Michele Weaver-Dugan,
                  Regional Inspector General for Audit, Internal
                  Operations/Philadelphia Audit Team

                  Bryon S. Gordon, Assistant Inspector General for Audit

FROM:             Denise L. Carter
                  Acting Assistant Secretary
                  Office of Finance and Operations

SUBJECT:          Response to Draft Assessment of the Department’s Workplace Reconstitution
                  Plans Following COVID-19 (Control Number ED-OIG/S20DC0008)

Thank you for the opportunity to review the referenced Draft Report regarding the Department’s
Workplace Reconstitution Plan. The Department will draft and implement the appropriate action plans to
address the recommendations.

I would like to clarify my response with respect to the finding that, “the Department did not update self-
screening questions in its Reconstitution Plan as suggested by the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB).”

On May 7, 2020, the Department submitted the draft Reconstitution Plan to OMB for review, including
self-screening questions referencing three potential COVID-19 symptoms and making no reference to the
definition of a fever. On May 8, OMB responded with the suggestion that we revisit the list of COVID-
19 symptoms in light of new Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance and consider providing details
on the definition of a fever. We agreed with their feedback and updated the plan accordingly to include
seven potential COVID-19 symptoms in line with the CDC guidance, as well as CDC’s fever definition.

We will continue monitoring the CDC guidance and will update the Department’s Plan accordingly.

Please convey our thanks to your audit team for their work on this review.

Please contact Daniel Currell, OFO Senior Advisor, at (202) 615-6862 with any questions or comments.



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       The Department of Education's mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by
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U.S. Department of Education
Office of Inspector General
ED-OIG/S20DC0008                                                                                                               20