On day 1, Biden issues mask mandate for federal employees, reinstates diversity training

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This story was updated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 9 p.m. to include additional details about the president’s executive orders. 

President Joe Biden took a series of executive actions on his first day in office, reversing some Trump-era policies for federal employees and contractors and creating a slew of new responsibilities for federal agencies.

The president signed more than a dozen executive orders and memos Wednesday evening, including one that mandates mask-wearing for federal employees and contractors while inside government buildings and on federal lands.

The executive order, which the White House released Wednesday night, calls on the Office of Personnel Management, General Services Administration and the White House COVID-19 response coordinator to release more guidance on the mandate. Agencies can make case-by-case exceptions to the mask mandate where appropriate, and the EO encourages leadership to consult with employees, contractors, federal unions and others about the new requirements.

Beyond the mandate itself, the EO also establishes a new federal workforce safety task force, led by OPM, GSA and the COVID-19 response coordinator. Other agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Protective Service, FEMA and the Office of Management and Budget, are task force members.

The new group will advise agencies on government operations and continuity, as well as employee safety, throughout the pandemic. The task force will address, testing, employee telework and commuting options, contact tracing, social distancing and vaccine distribution, among other topics.

In addition, the EO calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a COVID-19 testing plan for the federal workforce.

Beyond the mask mandate, Biden also repealed former President  Donald Trump’s executive order banning certain kinds of diversity and inclusion training for federal employees, contractors and grantees.

He instead signed a new executive order, designed to, as the administration put it in a recent fact sheet, begin “the work of embedding equity across federal policymaking and rooting out systemic racism and other barriers to opportunity from federal programs and institutions.”

Under this new executive order, Biden will direct federal agencies to conduct a review of the “state of equity” within their organizations. Agencies will have 200 days to detail their plans for addressing unequal barriers within their programs and policies.

In addition, the EO creates a new working group that will review diversity data, and it directs the Office of Management and Budget to “more equitably” allocate federal resources.

Biden will also take several steps to reverse Trump-era regulatory policies. He repealed the executive orders Trump signed in effort to cut back on agency regulations, including a 2017 EO that required agencies to repeal two actions for every new one they created.

Notably, Biden will also direct the Office of Management and Budget to offer up its own recommendations for improving and modernizing the regulatory review process.

On Wednesday afternoon, Ron Klain, the new White House chief of staff, issued a blanket freeze on new regulatory actions. The temporary pause will give the incoming administration time to review the regulations the Trump administration advanced during its final days in office.

Specifically, Klain asked agencies to consider postponing rules that have been posted to the Federal Register but haven’t taken effect yet for another 60 days. He also suggested agencies reopen the public comment period for another 30 days.

The memo also directs agencies to confer with OMB before renewing any regulatory activity.

Another executive order will require all executive branch appointees to sign an ethics pledge.

“The ethics pledge and related ethics rules in the executive order are designed to ensure that executive branch employees act in the interest of the American people and not for personal gain,” the fact sheet reads.

In one of the final acts of his presidency, Trump released the members of his administration from the terms of their ethics pledge, which he issued back in 2017.

In addition to these executive orders, Biden has identified dozens of environmental actions that agencies have taken in recent years. The new administration will ask the Environmental Protection Agency, Agriculture, Interior and Energy Departments, among others, to review those actions and ensure they comply with Biden’s new priorities.

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