DoD Civilians on Notice for Mandatory Vaccine Deadline

Chris - 9/25/2021

DoD Civilians on Notice for Mandatory Vaccine Deadline as Pentagon Weighs Enforcement

Kuhina Talimalie, 735th Air Mobility Squadron passenger service and baggage agent, tests a no-touch thermometer at the Air Mobility Command Passenger Terminal at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 25, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sergeant Anthony Nelson Jr.)


Posted: September 25, 2021 --- | By Travis Tritten


The U.S. Air Force has told civilian staff they face a November 22, 2021 deadline to be vaccinated against COVID-19, becoming the 1st service to issue a deadline for its civilians and matching a White House schedule for federal employees as the Pentagon works on a plan for enforcing the mandate. The deadline notice was sent out earlier this month by Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones in an internal memo. It was one of the 1st steps by the services toward hitting the date set by the Biden administration for all federal workers to be inoculated.


Other branches of the military have yet to announce whether they intend to follow the White House's deadline, with the potential that they could pick an earlier date. But enforcing the mandate for all the Dept of Defense's (DoD’s) 700,000 or so civilians -- the largest contingent in the federal government -- looms as a challenge, as many are still working from home, and some may resist the shot. And the Pentagon has yet to finalize the rules and what may happen to those who refuse.


The Dept of the Air Force, which includes the Space Force, has 200,000 civilian employees, according to Rand Corp. The Jones memo reiterated the vaccination deadline spelled out by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which is led by the White House's pandemic response team, according to Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. After lagging vaccination rates this summer, President Joe Biden announced all federal employees would be required to get the COVID shot, and the White House has since issued guidance saying all agencies, including the Dept of Defense, must move "as quickly as possible" to make sure all employees are inoculated.


Monitoring and testing of civilians were expected to begin this fall, as well as an effort to monitor contractors, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said earlier this month. The Pentagon is expected to announce the plan soon, according to top spokesman John Kirby. "Following publication of the president's EOs [executive orders] requiring civilian employee vaccination, DoD is in the process of updating its policies to implement these requirements," Major Cesar Santiago-Santini, a Pentagon spokesman, wrote in an email Friday.


For now, how the DoD will monitor hundreds of thousands of employees and who will pay for testing remain open questions. "Agencies are no longer required to establish a screening testing program for employees or onsite contractor employees who are not fully vaccinated, although they may do so," according to a September update from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. Defense contractors also will be required to take the shot.


Any federal contractor working onsite and unvaccinated before the deadline must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the past three days before entering a federal building, according to the task force. So far, the Department of the Air Force appears to be the 1st branch of the military to widely push the deadline while waiting for a unified plan from Pentagon leadership. The Army and Navy reported no similar notifications when reached for comment.


"COVID-19 vaccines are readily available to Department of the Army civilian employees, and we encourage all to comply with the President's directive," Lieutenant Colonel Terence Kelley, an Army spokesman, wrote in an email. "As we receive implementation guidance from the Department of Defense, we will issue further guidelines to our civilian employees. "All services have now set mandatory deadlines for service members to be vaccinated following an order in August from Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Lloyd Austin and have warned of potential punishment and even separation if troops refuse without a legitimate exemption.

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