The measure, which was approved unanimously, also provides money to cover expected overtime pay for front-line employees including food inspectors, federal prison correctional officers, airport screeners and medical personnel.
And many agencies would receive funds to beef up information technology systems burdened by the increasing number of federal employees now teleworking, according to a summary by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Veterans Affairs Department would get money for all those purposes: $19.6 billion to support “increased demand for health care services at VA facilities and through telehealth, including the purchase of medical equipment and supplies, testing kits, and personal protective equipment,” plus programs for homeless or at-risk veterans. Also, limits on overtime pay would be waived.
The Department of Homeland Security would get $178 million for “personal protection equipment for personnel including gloves, garments, goggles, hand sanitizer, respirators, and surgical masks” to be distributed among its component agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration.
Money for protective equipment also would go to law enforcement agencies and the Bureau of Prisons in the Justice Department, medical care providers of the Defense Department and the Public Health Service, and the Capitol Building’s Office of Attending Physician, among others.
TSA also would get $100 million for “increased cleaning and sanitization at TSA operations at airports and other facilities, overtime and travel costs required to maintain operations while infected employees are quarantined, and additional explosive detection materials that must be disposed of after a single use to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”
The General Services Administration, which owns and leases buildings for agencies other than the Defense Department, would get an extra $275 million for “deep cleaning, enhanced screening, and unanticipated space and space management requirements.” Others that would get extra money for cleaning and disinfecting include parts of the Interior Department, VA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center.
Additional money to boost telework capabilities would go to the Justice, Interior and Veterans Affairs departments, the EPA and to Congress itself.
The bill does not specify precise amounts for each purpose by agency, instead providing sums to be used for a number of listed reasons. And unlike a bill offered by House Democratic leadership on Monday, the bill would not require that agencies allow telework by all employees eligible for it.
“This legislation includes personal protective equipment measures for federal employees at the VA, DHS, Bureau of Prisons and the National Forest System, who are especially vulnerable given their public-facing and essential roles,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said in an emailed statement. “This is an improvement over the status quo, but it’s not enough. I remain concerned that the federal government isn’t being flexible enough about expanding telework arrangements for employees who can.”
The House measure has been set aside, and the House is expected to approve the Senate bill on Friday. President Trump said he intends to sign it immediately.
“It’s encouraging that important protections for federal workers are being added into law — especially at a time when the American people are relying on essential government services more than ever before,” Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) said in an emailed statement. “However, ambiguous guidance and uneven application across agencies on common-sense steps like expanded telework has been an unforced error.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that while the provisions “are a step forward, we will keep pushing for more. In the meantime, President Trump should issue an executive order — as my colleagues and I have called for — to provide clear direction for all federal agencies to maximize telework wherever possible.”