By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORTER
(The Center Square) — The battle over federal vaccine mandates is ramping up for federal contractors and members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
In September 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to comply with federal COVID-19 guidance. In November 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which determines the scope of that guidance, announced the COVID-19 vaccination requirement, which included contractors.
That measure was quickly challenged in court by trade groups and several states. In December 2021, a federal district court issued an injunction blocking the new vaccine mandate.
In August of this year, though, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that the previous court’s injunction should only apply to those states and groups that filed suit.
“The Eleventh Circuit’s decision narrowing the district court’s injunction will take effect when that court issues its mandate, which is scheduled to occur on October 18,” the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force said on its website, referring to the mandate scheduled for today. “In addition, several other Federal district courts have issued injunctions affecting certain states and contractors and subcontractors within those states. Those injunctions remain in effect.”
The task force said it will begin working on how the mandate will be implemented going forward, but said as of now agencies should not begin enforcing the mandate.
“Following the issuance by OMB of the initial notification to agencies, the Task Force intends to update its guidance regarding COVID-19 safety protocols for covered contractor and subcontractor workplace locations,” the task force said. “The Task Force will include in its updated guidance a timeline for implementation by contractors and subcontractors. The Director of OMB will also review the updated Task Force guidance and make a determination regarding whether the new guidance promotes economy and efficiency in Federal contracting.”
The Biden administration extended the declaration of the pandemic public health emergency status through Jan. 11, 2023.
Those mandates and the declaration have come under further criticism since President Biden said on “60 Minutes” in September that “the pandemic is over.”
“Why did Joe Biden extend his emergency pandemic powers if he said the pandemic is over?” U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, wrote on Twitter.
Federal vaccine mandates have also been a contentious issue in the military where service members have been discharged for refusing vaccination. Those discharges have been met with legal pushback, though.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday alleging the Coast Guard has been denying religious exemption applications for the vaccine wholesale without a fair evaluation of individual requests.
“Religious freedom is protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Despite these protections, information received by Committee Republicans indicates that the adjudication process for exemption applications was a pro forma exercise designed to reach predetermined conclusions – to deny requests and appeals – in nearly every single case,” the letter said. “The USCG even created a digital tool to assist in more efficiently denying appeals of the vaccine mandate instead of focusing on the merits of each individual case. Regardless of the ultimate decision to approve or deny these requests, the USCG and the other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces must afford members the opportunity to have their religious accommodations claim heard on the merits along with the right to appeal an adverse decision.”
Casey Harper works at The Center Square’s Washington, D.C., bureau.