DHS is putting new restrictions in place for contractors as federal agencies and industry grapple with how best to collaborate on projects under quarantines and social distancing guidelines designed to limit in-person gatherings.
NOTE: This article first appeared on FCW.com.
Contractors working for the Department of Homeland Security will undergo new screening procedures while visiting government facilities to limit the spread of COVID-19, according to Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa.
A letter from Correa dated March 25 and posted on SAM.gov, the federal government's primary contracting web portal, advises contractors and subcontractors that starting March 26, their access to the St. Elizabeth campus in Washington D.C., will be restricted and subject to enhanced requirements.
Only individuals who have been specifically authorized to work at federal facilities during the COVID-19 crisis and have government-issued Personal Identity Verification or Common Access Cards will be admitted. Those buildings could temporarily close at any time and all visitors – contractors and feds alike – will be subject to questioning and temperature checks at entry points.
"People without proper credentials or documentation, people who may be ill, and/or people who may pose a risk to others will not be granted access," Correa wrote.
While the procedures are currently only applicable for 30 days at the St. Elizabeth location, DHS warns they could soon be expanded to other facilities and might be in place for months. The agency advises contractors who are denied entry to notify their contracting officer and employers as to why and for companies to "take appropriate action to keep the employees and their coworkers safe and healthy."
The new restrictions come as federal agencies and industry are grappling with how best to continue collaborating on projects under quarantines and social-distancing guidelines designed to limit in-person gatherings. Government contracts often contain provisions that specifically outline the number of staff a company must make physically available on-site at federal facilities, and those employees are often required to have a minimum baseline of qualifications. That could make it tricky for companies to switch out or replace sick employees and stay in compliance with their contracts.
There is also no clearly outlined federal agency that has responsibility for securing federal buildings during a pandemic. The Federal Protective Service, General Services Administration, Office of Management and Budget and individual agencies all play some part in setting policy. OMB, issued guidance in late March that urged agencies to "maximize telework for contractor employees, wherever possible" and allowed for extending of contract timelines in the event that workers get sick.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) wrote to OMB acting Director Russell Vought this week requesting that he issue a new directive that "fully endorses and supports contractors teleworking or otherwise working remotely" for work normally conducted at government or contractor facilities. He also requested that OMB develop standard language within 15 days that allows agencies to modify contract requirements around on-call contractor capability and scope and schedule changes related to COVID-19.
"Without such overarching directive, I fear that agencies and their contracting officers will take disparate approaches, leading to uncertainty and instability in the contractor industrial base, if not a permanent loss of capability," Warner wrote. "Agencies are already issuing memoranda on this topic that potentially diverge from one another."
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