A new report from the General Services Administration Office of Inspector General details concerns about the Public Buildings Service’s communication and cleaning procedures during the coronavirus. The report found that PBS doesn’t have a standard inspection process for building cleanings and that it wasn’t always informed quickly enough when a positive coronavirus test was reported in a government facility.
“I think it’s a good sign that we already have the IG community looking in real-time at the activities that the government is undertaking to protect the workforce as they head back into buildings,” Danny Werfel, Partner at Boston Consulting Group and former Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget said. While some inspector general reports happen months or years after an event has taken place, the GSA IG report was released on Sept. 4 and is part of an ongoing audit that started in May.
“You’re getting a flash report in real-time that allows [GSA] to see the constructive criticism that is provided and take some steps to improve,” Werfel said. The report, Werfel mentioned, didn’t include any real issues with the cleaning of facilities, but instead focused on the paperwork and oversight of the cleaning procedures.
The Public Buildings Service has responded to 3,409 coronavirus incidents across its 1,753 buildings both owned and leased.
The biggest problem Werfel identified in the report was the finding that PBS did not always receive timely notice of COVID-19 positive test results from building occupants.
“GSA is reporting, but there’s a little bit of disconnect in it getting to the workforce,” Werfel said. He said he expects GSA to resolve the issue. “The fix is to ensure more direct communication to the workforce,” he said.
In terms of crafting new legislation about the return to the office, Werfel emphasized the need for fact-based policy. “All of it should be guided by science,” he said. “None of it should be guided by anything in the political realm.”
He said if he were to draft policy for GSA or OMB, he’d focus on government-wide umbrella policies, as well as leeway for individual agencies to adjust for their unique circumstances.
“Let’s open up the things and bring people back into co-located environments where it’s going to have the highest impact,” he said.
The General Services Administration Inspector General will continue its audit of PBS’s coronavirus communication and cleaning procedures. The Public Buildings Service responded to the report and in a statement said it will re-emphasize each building occupant’s obligation to notify PBS promptly of all potential COVID-19-related incidents.