House Republicans concerned about federal employee vaccine mandate

Leading Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee have a wide variety of unanswered questions about the Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandate for employees and contractors, with the deadline for complying with the policy in a few weeks.

Rep. James Comer (Ky.), A non-commissioned full committee member, and Rep. Jody Hice (Ga.), The top Republican on the government operations subcommittee, described a list of concerns about the federal mandate of the vaccines from the Biden administration, which they detailed. wednesday in a letter Office of Personnel Management, General Service Administration and Office of Management and Budget.

Under the federal vaccine mandate, employees must be fully immunized by November 22, although the date they must physically receive their immunizations in order to meet the two-week waiting period is November 8.

The agencies briefed the committee earlier this month on their plans to implement and enforce the president’s federal vaccine mandate, Comer and Hice said. But they still have questions.

Namely, they are concerned about the countless number of federal employees who may fail to comply with the mandate and face subsequent disciplinary action. The OPM recommended a three-step process to discipline federal employees who are not vaccinated in early November. The final step suggests removing unvaccinated employees from the federal public service.

“OPM, OMB and GSA believe there will be minimal employee attrition as a result of these mandates. However, they did not substantiate the reasons for this belief, ”wrote Comer and Hice. “If they are wrong about the attrition of one or the other category of employees, they risk a significant disruption of the missions of the agencies, major negative consequences for workers, families and businesses and the breakdown of ‘countless federal contracts. “

So far, few federal agencies have publicly reported vaccination rates among their employees, although some have offered anecdotal progress reports before the next November deadline.

CIA Director William Burns told members of the House Intelligence Committee earlier this week that 97% of the agency’s career agents were fully vaccinated.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which has its own mandate to vaccinate healthcare professionals with shorter deadlines to comply, has reported different vaccination rates at different times. VA Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters last week that the department is still compiling a complete and accurate picture of vaccination rates for the Veterans Health Administration, although the agency has started the disciplinary process for the 30% of employees who had not yet responded to the mandate. .

VHA has, however, seen vaccination rates increase among its employees since it first announced the tenure in July.

Comer and Hice said they were also concerned about the administration’s handling of medical and religious exceptions to the federal vaccine mandate.

The Biden administration did not detail exactly what types of medical or religious reasons might grant an employee an exception to the federal vaccine mandate, but it did provide advice to agencies on how they might manage the process. adaptation.

Notably, the administration said that agencies, when considering a request for a medical or religious exception, should think about the basis for an employee’s claim, their responsibilities at work, and the impact on them. its operations.

In their letter, Comer and Hice said that the administration “explicitly intended[s] to enforce the President’s vaccine mandates with the fewest possible exemptions. “

“The insistence of OPM, OMB and GSA on allowing extremely few exemptions is also troubling,” the members wrote. “For example, as represented to our staff, the Biden administration may intend to allow medical exemptions only for those who have previously been found allergic to available vaccines and those who benefit from yet other exemptions. to be specified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “

Neither the GSA nor the OMB responded to a request for comment on Comer and Hice’s letter. OPM declined to comment.

The two members also raised concerns about possible legal challenges to the vaccination mandate and questioned the administration’s position on employees who have already had COVID-19.

Citing the CDC’s recommendations, the administration said the federal vaccine mandate applies to everyone, including employees who have previously had a COVID-19 infection.

To help them better understand the administration’s thinking on medical or religious accommodations, Comer and Hice want the OPM, GSA and OMB to share all communications and documents on possible exemptions.

They also want the Biden administration to share the number of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated federal workers by November 10, two days after the deadline for employees to physically receive their vaccine doses.

And they’re looking for tracking data on employee layoffs or disciplinary actions related to the federal vaccine mandate, as well as any documents or communications from agencies discussing possible challenges to workforce attrition, plans for store employee information with third party vendors and testing options. for the workforce.

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