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Katherine Trimble, Assistant IG for Audits at the Environmental Protection Agency OIG, discusses what she and her team found regarding plans to bring EPA employees back to the office

The Environmental Protection Agency could make its reopening plans more clear and consistent, the agency’s Office of Inspector General found in a recent report.

Earlier this year, the federal government, including the CDC, issued guidance for federal agencies for bringing employees back into the workplace in three phases. The EPA developed its own location-specific plans based on this guidance, said Katherine Trimble, Assistant IG for Audits at the EPA OIG. She and her colleagues looked at 13 of those location-specific plans for Phases 1 and 2.

They found that while the location-specific plans did incorporate the elements from the CDC and other government guidance, there were differences by location as to how some of those health and safety measures were addressed, said Trimble. Some of these measures include face coverings, social distancing and public transportation.

The OIG recommended that the EPA, as it refines its Phase 3 reopening plan, take another look at the plans to see if they are adhering to the guidance and to make sure the differences make sense, said Trimble. “In some cases they might,” she said. For example, in an EPA location where employees mostly drive to and from work, it would make sense that a plan for that location would not be heavily focused on public transportation. The EPA should make sure the differences are not placing employees at risk, Trimble said.

The OIG did not look at gating criteria, which refers to how the decisions to move from phase to phase are made. Trimble said they will have an ongoing dialogue with the EPA to see if the plans address the intent of the recommendations. Additionally, they are planning to look at the EPA’s Phase 3 reopening plans as they are issued and determine at that point if they think additional work is necessary.

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