Delays in Major Federal Programs and Deadlines due to COVID-19
Published: April 09, 2020
The onset and continuation of the novel coronavirus pandemic has stalled several major programs and procurement deadlines throughout federal agencies.
- Suspension of key federal programs and deadlines is due to a lack of in-office functions and/or a shift in government priorities due to COVID-19.
- Rollout of critical health IT modernization programs, such VA’s EHRM and DOD’s MHS Genesis, are on hold while workforce efforts are redistributed for the outbreak.
- Some deadlines, including those under the EIS transition, remain steadfast despite current events.
- Contractors should be prepared for some suspensions in active procurements of pursuit, with alternative game plans in place to accommodate those postponements.
The effects of the coronavirus outbreak has pressed pause on the daily operations of many in the U.S. and worldwide. The same goes for several of the federal government’s major ongoing programs and procurement deadlines. Some of these delays are due to a hindrance in in-person government functions; some are due to a shift in government priorities because of the outbreak. Ironically, a few deadlines have held fast to their dates, despite the upheaval of the pandemic.
In this writing, we will look at a selection of federal programs and deadlines that have (or have not) been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
The 2020 Census
Required by law, the Bureau of Census must finish the 2020 Census and deliver count results to the President by December 31, 2020. Spending nearly a decade preparing, with key functions of the survey finally upon us, the bureau must now adjust or extend certain operations due to the risks of COVID-19 and unavailability of in-person performance. On March 18, the agency suspended 2020 Census field operations for two weeks and thereafter, extended the suspension another two weeks to April 15. Other operations for the decadal survey have also taken steps to adjust deadlines because of COVID-19:
- The self-response deadline, mobile questionnaire assistance program, early Non Response Follow-Up (NRFU) and NRFU re-interview and are all extended from July 31 to August 14
- The Service-Based Enumeration and homelessness count due dates are extended from April 1 to May 1 and Enumeration of Transitory Locations from May 4 to May 18
- Group Quarters Enumeration is extended from June 5 to June 19
Despite these delays, as of now, the Census Bureau still plans to meet its ultimate deadline to deliver results by December 31, 2020.
Commercial Platform Acquisition
The award to acquire the Proof of Concept (POC) of the government’s electronic purchasing portal is on hold. Previously, GSA announced that it was working through protests and planned to award the Commercial Platforms POC by the end of March, or “shortly thereafter.” However, with the virus outbreak, the GSA office overseeing the initiative must shift focus to activities providing IT hardware and services to “implement telework procedures and other mission critical functions remotely,” according to Laura Stanton, Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Category Management, Information Technology Category. GSA’s goal is to award the Commercial Platforms initiative in the coming months.
In conjunction with Cerner, VA is in the midst of implementing its Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program to unify VA and DOD health records under a single system. VA expected to launch the system at the Spokane, Washington-based Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in July. Now, a new date for launching the system is unavailable due to COVID-19 outbreak. Understandably, overall priorities and activities at the VA now center on providing medical care to veterans related to the recent pandemic. According to VA Secretary, Robert Wilkie, “the Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization (OEHRM) [is] to immediately shift to a non-intrusive posture with VA health care operations to allow frontline clinicians to focus on Veteran care."
Nonetheless, implementation at the Spokane center is nearly finished, with the interface design, build, connectivity and technical testing complete. Furthermore, the Joint Health Information Exchange between VA and DOD is set to meet the activation and delivery date at the end of April.
The deployment of a commercial electronic health record system to all military sites, MHS Genesis, to provide a single health record to service members, veterans and their families, is paused. Use of MHS Genesis will continue at the eight sites where deployment has taken place, while future rollouts will hold off, relieving DOD caregivers from training and other go-live activities. Other MHS Genesis-related efforts are expected to continue, such as coding interfaces and data conversions.
One area not expecting delays due to COVID-19 is agency transition to the government’s latest telecommunications contract, the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) vehicle. Though EIS has faced schedule issues in the past, GSA has held fast to the current timeline set for agencies. The latest due date, March 31, marked when GSA would begin limiting use of existing telecommunication contracts for agencies lacking in their transitions. Despite GSA’s stronghold on EIS dates, GAO reports that very few agencies are meeting key dates to complete transition activities.
Regarding COVID-19, GSA has asked agency transition teams to relay information on how the outbreak is affecting their EIS efforts, agreeing to work with only those that have already awarded task orders to mitigate delays caused by the pandemic.
Contractors will need to be weary of changing due dates in active procurements and ask their Contracting Officers on the status of current projects potentially impacted by COVID-19. Already seen, government operations with direct involvement in the outbreak (HHS, DOD, VA, GSA) are likely to experience further delays in “regular” functions and agendas to focus on the outbreak. Meanwhile, federal programs and services that require in-person efforts (i.e., Census, SSA) will also see changes in their normal performances. As with many areas affected by this novel pandemic, understanding and adaptability will be key in dealing with the changing government environment and those programs and procurements affected by the coronavirus.