The coronavirus is taking over the news, and with confusion comes a ton of questions. With the new virus affecting Americans in as many as 40 states, things are changing daily.
The ClearanceJobs Blog is an excellent forum to get opinions from background investigators and other security cleared personnel. One field investigator is anxious about COVID-19 and is seeking advice on what the virus means for field investigators, and telework options:
‘Has anyone heard if there is any plan for investigators concerning field work in areas where schools & offices may closed due to coronavirus? I’m beginning to get a little concerned as my city has confirmed 3 cases yesterday and the mayor has just cancelled all St. Patrick’s parades and Super Sunday.’
If offices, schools, or other organizations are closed, obviously the ability of field investigators to do their work is compromised.
The Office of Personnel Management urged agencies to ensure that federal employees are prepared to telework, and last Tuesday it issued new preliminary guidance on how this should be carried out.
“Agencies should immediately review their current COOP plans to ensure that telework has been fully incorporated and that as many employees as possible have been identified as telework employees in the plan, and are telework capable (or ‘telework ready’),” wrote OPM Director Dale Cabaniss, as reported by the Federal News Network.
Christopher Burgess, contributor of ClearanceJobs, reiterated that individuals need to ask questions of your staff and management.
Supervisors may authorize work flexibility at their discretion, including telework, alternative work schedules, weather and safety leave, sick leave and annual leave, per OPM.
The guidance noted that agencies should do the following: Review continuity of operation plans, so essential functions continue regardless of how much the illness spreads, keep contact information up to date, and update telework agreements, so employees can work during an emergency or when caring for a child or other person at home.
From this memo, one section reads ‘Does an agency possess the authority to have their telework program participants work from home during an agency closure due to COVID-19? Yes. During an agency closure due to COVID-19, when an agency Continuity of Operation Plan (COOP) has not been initiated and the World Health Organization has NOT declared a pandemic, telework program participants will generally be expected to continue working from home.’
Because there is no federal government wide telework policy or procedure, the agreement is between agency supervisor and federal employee, or contractor supervisor and contracting employee. Field investigators should reach out to their supervisor about conducting phone interviews or secure video teleconferencing options.
One investigator on the ClearanceJobs Blog replies, ‘Most of my interviews are on military bases and, so far, everyone is still shaking hands (of course, I wash my hands after every interview session).’
Another had requested guidance on what to do if subjects require in person TESI/ESI and are on telework due to office closure or too nervous to meet due to anxiety. This commenter is hoping that their organization will approve video calls.
For candidates wondering if their security clearance will continue as usual, the good news is the expansion of continuous vetting and successful pilots of video teleconferencing interview options means the personnel security system is more prepared for coronavirus than many other organizations. If a field investigator contacts you and requests a phone or video interview, it will behoove you to take advantage of the option versus requesting an in-person interview.
If you are a field investigator working directly for the federal government or a contracting agency, phone and video interviews are being conducted, but the extent to which video and phone interview options will be extended will vary by case, contractor and agency. Stay tuned to agency details, and if you have concerns – by all means, feel free to deny that handshake.