Lawmakers push SECDEF for clear COVID-19 guidelines for contractors

Barry Hellman, project manager for the Air Force Research Lab’s X-60A Hypersonic Research Vehicle, explains the project to AFRL personnel who were a part of the Inspire Tech Expo at the Dayton Convention Center in this May 2019 file photo.

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Barry Hellman, project manager for the Air Force Research Lab’s X-60A Hypersonic Research Vehicle, explains the project to AFRL personnel who were a part of the Inspire Tech Expo at the Dayton Convention Center in this May 2019 file photo.

Six representatives and both of Ohio’s senators are urging Defense Secretary Mark Esper to offer clear guidelines to protect the health of defense contractors at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s biggest commands.

Worried defense industry employees have contacted the legislators with concerns about exposure to COVID-19, the letter states.

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“We have been contacted by 13 small businesses in Ohio that have research and development contracts with AFRL (Air Force Research Lab),” says the letter that appears over the signatures of Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, Warren Davidson, R-Troy, and others. “They have raised concerns about the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and an absence of sufficient guidance on how they may continue to meet their contractual obligations to DoD during this crisis.

“One of their key concerns is the lack of uniform guidance from local leadership and contracting officers on which tasks and personnel are deemed ‘mission essential’ and the rules on which contractors can continue to work remotely,” the letter added.

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“We are urging that clear mandates be directed to contracting officers until such time as this emergency has passed,” the letter also states. “We are mindful of the ongoing health emergency, its potential economic impact on the DoD contracting community, and the vital contribution this workforce makes to our national security.”

The letter asks the Defense Department to allow contractors to work remotely whenever possible.

The lawmakers want the department to give contractors “maximum flexibility to meet their contractual obligations” and to “keep this vital workforce intact and prevent avoidable reductions in forces during this crisis.”

The Dayton Daily News is attempting to reach a Department of Defense spokesperson for a response.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base last month declared a public health emergency. 88th Air Base Wing leaders say they have given base commanders wide latitude to decide which employees should be permitted to work from home.

The letter was also signed by Reps. Marcy Kaptur, Tim Ryan, Steve Chabot and David P. Joyce.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is home to 30,000 employees, military and civilian. Approximately a third of that workforce is tied to contractors.

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