WASHINGTON , -- Thousands could soon be fired for not complying with the U.S. vaccine mandate. This has led some Republican lawmakers to express concern about removing critical national security employees.
U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (a Utah Republican) stated that at least 20% of intelligence agencies' workforce was not vaccinated by October. Stewart is a member the House Intelligence Committee. Stewart stated that some agencies of the 18-member intelligence group had up to 40% of their workforce not vaccinated. Stewart cited information the administration provided to the committee, but it was not made public. Because of the classified information about vaccination rates, he declined to identify these agencies.
Although many people will still be vaccinated by the Nov. 22 deadline for civilian workers, any resistance to the mandate could result in major agencies that are responsible for national security being without personnel. Because of their highly skilled work and difficulties in completing security clearance checks, intelligence officers can be difficult to replace.
Multiple requests for figures from the intelligence community were turned down by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In the event that officers fail to comply with the mandate, the office would not provide details about any contingency plans.
Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, declined to reveal the percentage of the workforce that had been vaccinated at last week's hearing but stated "we aren't anticipating that it will be an issue for missions." There are approximately 100,000 people in the intelligence community.
Stewart's vaccination rates are generally higher than the general U.S. populace. 70% of American adults have been fully vaccinated, and 80% of them have received at least one vaccine.
Stewart urged the administration to grant more exemptions to people on religious, medical and other grounds and to delay terminations of intelligence officers.
Stewart stated, "My question is: What's the impact on national safety if we do that?" Stewart said, "You could potentially fire thousands of people in one day." It's not as if you post a Craigslist job posting and people apply by Thursday.
President Joe Biden issued several mandates to increase the U.S. vaccination rate, which affected federal employees, contractors, and health care workers. These mandates have been credited by the White House with increasing vaccination rates and decreasing deaths due to a pandemic which has claimed more than 750,000 lives in the U.S., and 5,000,000 worldwide.
Independent health experts and federal regulators have confirmed that vaccines available are safe. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, who were not vaccinated were 11 times more likely to become hospitalized and 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19.
Due to the tight labor market, mandates to be vaccinated have been met with significant resistance. First responders, as well as employee unions have opposed vaccine mandates. They argue that mandates restrict personal freedom.
House Intelligence Committee Democrats claim they are confident that the vaccine mandate will not pose a problem to the intelligence community. Rep. Jason Crow (a Colorado Democrat) said that the agencies were doing well and that employees getting vaccinated was a sign they are ready.
Crow stated in an interview that "if somebody isn't willing to do what it takes to protect their health and the health health of their unit then that actually puts into question their ability for effective job performance."
Stewart said that the classified information the Biden administration gave to the intelligence committee about each of the nation’s 18 intelligence agencies was classified. Stewart noted that generally, agencies closer to the military tended to report lower vaccination rates.
Several major agencies with large military components all declined to provide their vaccination rate when asked by The Associated Press, including the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. NGA, which generates intelligence from drones and satellites, stated in a statement that they were "working to ensure all employees understand the process" and the documentation required before the deadline.
Stewart, an ex-Air Force pilot, was vaccinated but stated that he opposed mandates because they are intrusive and counterproductive.
He said, "If you tell people, "You must do this and we won’t consider any exceptions,' then that's where they get in their heels."
Rep. Darin L. Hood, an Illinois Republican, shared Stewart's concerns at a hearing last Wednesday and said that agency leaders were affected by the question of unvaccinated workers.
Senator Mark Warner, D. Virginia, is the chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee. He stated in a statement that he supports federal employees being required to get vaccinations. Warner stated that "we need to use every tool at our disposal in order to save lives, and protect mission readiness."
Federal employees who have not been vaccinated by Nov. 22 or are not exempted from it could be subject to a 14-day suspension or dismissal. The General Services Administration advised agencies that there may be "unique operational requirements of agencies" and that the circumstances affecting one employee could warrant a deviation from these guidelines.
Steve Morrison, the director of the Global Health Policy Center, Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies said that the mandate for vaccines was still fairly new and that he expects the numbers to change prior to the cutoff by the administration.
Morrison stated that intelligence agencies often work with unvaccinated workers, so they will need to be flexible in their approach without losing sight of the fundamental strategy and goals.
Morrison stated that "to control the pandemic in America requires a higher level of vaccination coverage." It's a matter national security.