FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Navy Capt. Danny King likens COVID-19 to fighting a war.
“All the different variants we’ve dealt with are individual battles in that war, and just like in regular combat, the enemy has a vote on what happens next,” said King, who in his role as director of plans and operations for Defense Logistics Agency Human Resources also leads the agency’s COVID-19 Coordination Team.
The team has worked since its creation in March 2020 to anticipate the virus’ next move and establish DLA policies that protect employees while allowing the agency to continue its mission. Members’ collective efforts shaping guidance in areas like mask wearing and leave allowances for vaccination, as well as tracking agency-wide infection rates, earned the group the 2021 DLA Large Team of the Year Award.
King said the key to the team’s success is the proactiveness of its members, which include human resources specialists, customer account managers for all of DLA’s major subordinate commands and directorates, and representatives from areas like safety and occupational health, legal and installation management.
While DLA usually adapts DOD policy to meet agency needs, the complicated and evolving nature of COVID-19 sometimes pushed the team to draft DLA-specific pandemic policies before DOD guidance was issued.
“Our agency is unique, and things sometimes happen so quickly that we’ve all found ourselves staying in the ready-to-launch mode to get guidance out and put things in place to protect and inform our global workforce,” King said.
DLA policy written in advance of DOD guidelines in 2021 was informed by occupational health laws as well as guidance issued by the White House, Office of Personnel Management, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The release of DOD policy then led to updates to DLA’s guidance, and Tya Dammer, a human resources specialist who’s authored much of the agency’s pandemic guidance since February 2020, went back to DOD for clarification when needed.
“When you start applying policy to real life situations, all kinds of questions come up that haven’t been thought of before,” she said. “When we rolled out the mask policy, for example, there were issues like how do we provide masks, how do we make sure they’re being worn correctly and when can employees actually take them off.”
Army Col. Anthony Bostick, DLA Veterinarian, is also part of the team and has helped inform DLA’s pandemic policy. As head of the agency’s operational planning team for vaccine distribution, Bostick has spent much of his time working at the Defense Health Agency, Office of Joint Staff Surgeon, and Department of Health and Human Services, where he’s been privy to information on emerging variants. His awareness of Delta and the threat of cases rising again helped shape the decision to maintain maximum telework last summer while some federal agencies started returning to offices and removing masks.
Occupational health has had a role, too, in helping establish safety protocols for emergency-essential, on-site employees at places like the Agency Synchronization and Operations Center and distribution facilities. Juan Torres-Rodriguez from DLA’s emergency management program also kept the team informed of health protection condition levels. And Darryl Roberts, staff director of labor and employee relations policy, facilitated union review of DLA’s pandemic policies.
Tracking active cases, hospitalizations, recovered cases and deaths among DLA’s workforce has been the daily endeavor of Air Force Master Sgt. Demetrius Wofford Sr. He also keeps a daily record of quarantined employees.
“Data like this puts the DLA director and other leaders in the best possible position to make informed decisions that affect the entire agency,” he said, adding that the information is also sent each day to DOD.
Though all agencies are required to maintain infection records, King said he believes DLA’s numbers could easily be used to paint a picture of worldwide cases.
“We have people all over the globe, and I would argue the point that anyone looking for a sampling of how this virus is behaving around the world could probably get it from us,” he said.
Vaccination rates are also tracked, and the team partnered last year with DLA information technology specialists to automate the process with the agency’s Vaccination Documentation System, which was operational before DOD’s.
Educating employees on new or modified policies was another role of the coordination team. Human Resources Communications Manager Kathy Rhem continually provided updates on the DLA Coronavirus Information webpage, which includes policy summaries and links to resources as well as frequently asked questions.
“There’ve been a lot of hands in this endeavor since the team was created,” King said. “Our success truly comes down to the fact that we were and still are working together as a team to make sure each and every individual is safe and informed.”