The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling for a greater focus on establishing a uniform, international approach to determine which businesses and industries should be deemed "essential" during the coronavirus pandemic.
State and local governments in the U.S. have power to set their own restrictions on which businesses are spared from mandatory-closure orders, in some cases making decisions based on nonbinding guidance the Department of Homeland Security issued last month. In practice that has meant orders often differ across county, city, or state lines, as well as international borders, hindering the private sector's ability to respond to the public health crisis, Chamber officials said in a call with reporters Tuesday.
"There is an urgent need for a uniform approach to identifying which workers and functions are deemed essential, and we urge states to follow a uniform model and provide guidance to state and local law enforcement, employers, and employees," said Christopher Roberti, the Chamber's senior vice president for cyber, intelligence, and security policy.
The Chamber, which bills itself as the world's largest business organization, has joined with other industry groups and business representatives to lobby federal policymakers, state governors, and international governments. They argue the coronavirus is a global threat that requires a streamlined approach, not a patchwork system that breeds confusion.
The Chamber continues to receive reports from member businesses about customer-service call centers being deemed non-essential, which blocks companies from being able to access important information from banks and other financial institutions. John Drake, the Chamber's executive director for supply chain policy, said the group also has received reports about restrictions barring truck drivers from delivering medical supplies across international borders.
Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency took steps to address cross-jurisdictional problems through its March guidance, which followed a request from the Chamber. The agency plans to further update its guidance, Chamber representatives said on the call.
"As the Nation's response to COVID-19 continues to develop, CISA is working with our partners across industry and government to understand the range of essential critical Infrastructure functions and workers that are involved in supporting this whole-of-society effort," CISA Director Christopher Krebs said in a statement to Bloomberg Law. "We continue to encourage state and local jurisdictions to provide feedback on the how they're using the list, and are committed to keeping the list up-to-date in step with the evolving response to COVID-19."
In addition to working with CISA, Chamber officials are asking international governments to follow the CISA guidance to clarify rules for businesses that have an international footprint, said John Murphy, the Chamber's senior vice president for international policy.
"Having a patchwork can really complicate the ability of industry to provide those essential services," Murphy said.