Area military installations adjust to coronavirus concerns

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Work-at-home teleworking arrangements are being emphasized where possible at Rome Lab, the Rome Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), and the Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) due to COVID-19/coronavirus concerns.

Among details at the three major federal defense-related employers, all at Griffiss Business and Technology Park:

• Rome Lab — Formally called the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Information Directorate, the lab said that effective at noon Friday the site would “go into a mission-critical posture” including the lab, the nearby DFAS and other tenants.

“The total on-site presence will be reduced from 1,200 government civilians, military and contractors to 125. Only mission-critical employees will be allowed on site,” said the lab statement provided today by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio which is headquarters for the overall AFRL. “All other employees will be on approved telework agreements. Due to the public health emergency status of the COVID-19 pandemic the duration of this posture is indefinite.”

On Tuesday, the lab said “the installation commander, in coordination with higher headquarters, has directed the maximized use of telework by AFRL/RI employees to conform to state and federal direction of social distancing and reduced group presence.”

Also, “additional good hygiene emphasis has been disseminated to all personnel, as well self-quarantining under suspicion of potential contact with anyone who may have had the virus,” the lab added. Department of Defense and Office of Personnel Management “civilian work flexibilities have been implemented to the extent possible to afford our workforce a safe and reduced risk environment to continue supporting our AFRL mission.”

In addition, for the Colosseum Gym at Griffiss that is operated through the AFRL, as of the close of business Tuesday it will “remain closed until further notice for the safety of all the patrons that use it,” said Bryan Ripple, spokesman at Wright-Patterson.

Rome Lab’s staffing for fiscal 2019 included about 755 civilians and 61 military positions, according to its latest economic impact report. There also were 403 on-site contractors under Air Force contracts. The lab “leads the Air Force and nation in Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) and cyber science, technology, research, and development,” according to Wright-Patterson.

• DFAS — It “has contingency plans in place to ensure our payroll and accounting operations remain fully operational,” said a statement by the overall agency which has major operating sites in Rome plus Ohio, Indiana and Maine. “Employee health and safety is a top priority, and DFAS actively follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Defense. The agency has recently taken steps to defer travel, maximize teleworking opportunities, and practice social distancing.”

Rome DFAS on Tuesday morning implemented an extended arrangement until April 19 in which any employee with an active teleworking agreement can work at home, said Edward Abounader, president of the DFAS union local and of the American Federation of Government Employees/DFAS National Council.

Rome DFAS has about 960 employees, and about 400 had already been teleworking regularly, said Abounader. He estimated about 90% of the workforce now may be doing so, noting that many more had signed up for teleworking agreements over the last few days. The remainder may not be opting to do so or may not have sufficient internet system capabilities, he said, adding the DFAS building will stay open for employees.

Employees working at home have the same responsibilities, performance requirements and expectations as at the DFAS site, said Abounader. The extended arrangements can help control potential coronavirus exposure plus help accommodate employees’ children who now are at home due to schools being closed, he observed.

Much of the Rome DFAS site’s work has involved processing Army financial accounts such as payroll, vendor payments, and travel.

• EADS — A teleworking plan for administrative and support staff was instituted effective Tuesday and will continue until further notice, said spokesman Tim Jones.

But the facility’s battle control center that includes direct operations for its ongoing air defense responsibilities will remain fully staffed and running as usual, Jones emphasized.

If administrative and support staff do have to stop in at the EADS location, they will be allowed to so, observed Jones. But the goal is to minimize possible exposure to coronavirus, he added.

Jones would not specify how many employees at the Griffiss park site are involved in the teleworking arrangement. Most of EADS’ approximately 400 employees, who include airmen, civilians and contractors, are at Griffiss while while the others are at two detachments in Washington, D.C. and Herndon, Va.

An Air National Guard facility that is part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), EADS’ primary mission is to counter all air threats to the eastern half of the continental U.S. through detection, rapid warning and tactical control of NORAD forces.

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