All employees at an obscure federal agency who claim religious exemptions from President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate will be added to a list, the agency stated in a Jan. 11 public notice.
The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) posted the notice in the Federal Register, asking the public for comment on the new system, which is being called the “Employee Religious Exception Request Information System.”
Biden announced in September 2021 that all federal employees must get a COVID-19 vaccine. Soon after, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued guidance to agencies concerning when to grant exemptions for religious or medical reasons and how to track documents concerning the mandate.
CSOSA stated that in order to meet the requirements outlined by the president and the task force, it’s creating a new system that will allow it to collect information related to religious accommodations to the vaccination requirements. The system will be used to house information on workers, volunteers, interns, contractors, and consultants with the Pretrial Services Agency (PSA) for the District of Columbia, an office inside CSOSA, who ask for religious exemptions.
“The primary purpose of the secured electronic file repository is to collect, maintain, use, and—to the extent appropriate and necessary—disseminate employee religious exception request information collected by the agency in the context of the federally mandated COVID-19 vaccination requirement,” the notice reads.
In addition to being used to process religious accommodation requests, “the secured electronic file repository enables PSA to log, track, and manage employee religious exception request information while leveraging technology to protect and secure the privacy of the records maintained in the system,” according to the notice.
Records may include workers’ religious affiliation, date of birth, job title, home address, age, and the office to which they’re assigned. They may also contain accommodation requests, as well as notes and decisions on the requests.
It wasn’t clear which part of the order and guidance the agency was seeking to comply with and CSOSA’s spokesperson didn’t respond to a voicemail or an email about the new system.
Sara Parshall Perry and GianCarlo Canaparo, legal fellows at the Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, said the system is being tried out by a tiny agency in a likely attempt to avoid public scrutiny, predicting that it will eventually be rolled out across the government.
“Almost nobody has ever heard of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia, and very few people pay close attention to it or are covered by its policies,” they wrote in an op-ed. “However, had Biden announced, for example, that the Department of Labor intended to adopt this policy, it would be big news. The Federal Register where announcements like this are made would be flooded with comments that the department would have to address. That would, of course, delay the policy’s rollout.
“With the Pretrial Services Agency, Biden likely expected that the policy would land quickly and without a splash. As it is, the notice of a new announcement provides less than 30 days for public comment.”