Nearly 93% of the federal workforce has now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 97% are complying with President Biden’s mandate by receiving an injection or requesting a waiver.
The effort was a significant boost and unprecedented challenge to the Biden administration, which, according to administration officials and the agency’s internal communications, deployed a variety of resources, guidance and lobbying campaigns to increase their numbers. Shortly after taking office, Biden established the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, comprised of officials from the White House, the Office of Personnel Management, and the General Services Administration, eventually assuming leadership in coordinating of vaccine mandate implementation efforts.
The task force helped facilitate conversations between agencies so they could share what was working and what was not, said management policy experts who served on the task force and spoke with Government Executive background information to provide details on public safety decision-making. It drew on the expertise of member agencies, such as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for public health practices and the Office of Personnel Management for leave and workforce policies. The process was iterative, officials said, as they solicited constant feedback from agency leaders on their outstanding questions and updated guidance accordingly. The task force helped agencies establish internal timelines for reaching certain benchmarks.
“A lot is driven by having that deadline, having that goal, being able to lead people towards that,” said a member of the task force, adding that the panel has emphasized allowing agencies to share what they’ve had with each other. success and what has not. . “When you try to implement something through an organization like this, you can’t communicate enough.”
From those meetings, task force members said, agencies learned the importance of constantly collecting and analyzing vaccination data to know exactly where it is located. If some regions or components lagged behind others, agencies could then take steps, such as holding town halls, starting conversations with supervisors, or distributing literature, to help them catch up. Agencies could determine when was the best time of day to speak to various parts of their workforce, whether to use bulletin boards or more extensive distributed and photocopied paperwork, or the best strategies for posting to their intranet sites. Data collection and communication assisted the agencies with this troubleshooting.
“Did we put it in the right place? Did we ask the right people? Is the nature and pace of the work such that the type of engagement we are making is appropriate or do we need to have different points of contact due to the timing of the work? people? collect? ” the official said, describing the kinds of questions the task force helped agencies think about.
In spite of small pockets from employees throughout the government maintain would not receive the vaccine and a slight majority From officials saying they did not approve of Biden’s term, the results show that the process, for the most part, worked. While the administration was unable to share the federal workforce vaccination rate at the time Biden issued his mandate in September, citing the difficulty of gathering information with the deadline still months away, anecdotal evidence suggests major changes to the less in some agencies. In Customs and Border Protection, for example, data shows that roughly 25% of the workforce could prove their vaccination status shortly after Biden announced his tenure. Today, the agency is at 87%. The Internal Revenue Service saw 22,000 employees begin the vaccination process since the president’s announcement. In the two weeks since the deadline, agencies have seen a 20% reduction in their non-compliant population.
Agencies took different approaches in the run-up to the vaccination deadline, including messages from top leaders. CBP made personal appeals to employees in videos sent to their workforce, the transcript of which was obtained by Government Executive.
“Think about your health, your career,” said Manuel Padilla Jr., CBP’s Acting Assistant Executive Commissioner for Operations Support. “Your loved ones and their families and how they will be affected by your decision.”
A second speaker on the video, another acting executive assistant commissioner, Mark Borkowski, appealed to the broader sense of public service from employees.
“We are fulfilling a superior mission,” Borkowski said. “I know we are all proud, like the boss and I, to be a part of CBP and the mission that CBP carries out. But with public service comes responsibility. It comes with a commitment to making service to the public more important than our own interests. That is the situation that many of us encounter. [our]me today. “
Executives continued to explain the schedule and possible disciplinary actions, with Borkowski suggesting that the Nov. 22 deadline for federal employees to confirm their vaccination status “was not an accident,” as the cloud of discipline could be floating. about Thanksgiving. They emphasized that discipline would be progressive, take weeks to develop, and be influenced by employees’ previous disciplinary history. They predicted that completions, if necessary, would begin in January.
Since that message, the OPM and the Office of Management and Budget pressured agencies to delay harsh punishments for employees who do not meet the mandate until the new year. Previously, agencies like CBP had planned to start suspending some unvaccinated employees in December. At the Justice Department, for example, 10-day suspensions were set to begin on December 5, according to internal emails obtained by Government Executive. While the advisory messages sent to CBP staff who did not comply with the standards, a copy of which was also reviewed by Government ExecutiveSpecifically referring to the notices as “nondisciplinary,” law enforcement officials referred to the department’s messages as “disciplinary / advisory letters.” The Justice notice said employees had received many reminders of their duties and informed recipients of their five-day countdown (now obsolete) before more serious discipline began.
Like CBP, Justice advised employees to feel stressed by the decision to contact the department’s Employee Assistance Program office.
Task force officials said the threat of discipline played a role in increasing vaccination rates, but messages about the agency’s safety and mission were almost as critical.
“The most important thing to convey is how seriously the organization takes the vaccination requirement … and there are many different ways to do it,” said one official. “Obviously, you need to make it clear that ultimately, if you don’t comply, there will be consequences.”
The administration does not plan further delays in penalties for feds who do not comply, the task force members said, meaning the suspensions are likely to begin in January. They expect the non-compliance rate to continue to decline in the coming weeks, meaning the Pentagon and civilian agencies will not have to fire the roughly 100,000 federal and military personnel who are currently subject to counseling. Where layoffs occur, “the agencies will handle it,” said one official.
The agencies are also currently working through their waiver applications, some rely on individual supervisors to make eligibility determinations and others, like CBP, use an “executive panel.” Decisions could take a few more days or several more weeks, depending on the operating environment and other factors that agencies must consider. Employees who are deemed ineligible, either because their application is denied outright or because their specific workplace does not allow for an accommodation, will have a couple more weeks to decide whether to get vaccinated before facing disciplinary action.
A member of the task force suggested that credit for the government’s high compliance rate fell primarily with the agency leaders and supervisors who led the charge on the ground.
“Obviously, the task force can provide guidance, but ultimately these results reflect thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people spending that time, leading that effort,” the official said. “Late at night, on the weekends, missed dinners, who knows what to make sure they hook up with someone, have that conversation, run that data. It is a reflection of the tremendous people we have in the federal government, how fortunate we are to have them here doing this fantastic job. “