Surpise, surprise: 80% of CDC workers are still working from home

Eight in 10 CDC workers are STILL working from home as former staffer warns it’s ‘almost impossible to get anything done’ with no-one in the office

  • Eight in ten employees at the CDC are working from home, per a FOIA request
  • Experts fear this will leave the organization unable to learn from mistakes
  • It comes after agency revealed it would sack 3,000 people hired to fight Covid

Most employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are still working from home.

The federal health agency, responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request said 80 percent of staff were still partially or fully working from home.

Dr Stephen Cochi, who worked at the CDC for four decades before retiring this year, warned remote work was making it ‘almost impossible to get anything done’.

It comes as the agency lays off 3,000 scientists, comms experts and nurses that were recruited to help fight Covid.

The CDC is bucking the trend and continuing to allow most of its employees to work from home

When Covid struck the CDC signaled to all Americans who were in non-essential work to start working from home on March 18, 2020.

It has not since released updated guidance telling people that they should return to the office.

In August this year the agency cut the quarantine period for Covid patients from 10 to five days, saying this would bolster office returns. Four months later, it is still yet to rollback its own teleworking plans.

Public health purge at the CDC 

More than 3,000 scientists and public health experts hired to assist the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) pandemic response are being let go.

Their contracts are set to expire over the coming weeks across the US and they will not be renewed, as part of the country’s winding down of Covid spending.

The CDC Foundation — an independent body that supports the CDC’s work — recruited 4,000 epidemiologists, communication experts , and public health nurses during the pandemic.

But only 800 are set to keep their jobs when they are brought on by local health departments because the foundation has spent nearly all of its $289million Covid relief budget.

In response to an FOIA request submitted by Kaiser Health News, the CDC said 10,020 of its 12,892 employees were still allowed ‘hybrid’ or ‘totally remote’ work.

Some 6,237 — or half the workforce — were allowed to work totally remotely.

The CDC has refused to drop its working from home policies even as the danger from the virus has ebbed.

Employee guidance published by the agency in April says teleworking has given employees ‘flexibility’.

It adds that the move has also allowed them to employ staff outside of its headquarter in Atlanta, Georgia.

The agency’s director Dr Rochelle Walensky has also previously championed remote working.

She said in September: ‘People at the CDC are working well, they’re working hard, and they don’t necessarily need to be on-site in Atlanta.

‘In fact, oftentimes, they’re more productive off-site.’ 

She made the comments in response to a question from Louisiana’s GOP Senator Bill Cassidy, who asked in September how she expected to set an example if she was never in the office.

Dr Walensky ‘splits her time’ between Atlanta, Washington DC, local health departments and the 60 other countries where the CDC operates.

Dr Cochi told KHN the agency used to be sleek and able to respond quickly to crises, but complained it was now bogged down by a remote workforce and ballooning bureaucracy.

‘I would like to see every effort made to try to restore that culture to the extent possible, because CDC will potentially lose some of its excellence if it can’t,’ he said.

Dr Pamela Hinds, a management scientist at Stanford University, added: ‘One of the things that a really strong new leader would do is they’d be visible, they’d be walking the halls, they’d have the door open.

‘That’s much harder to accomplish when nobody’s there.’

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is now reported to be mostly back to the office.

But other government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are still said to have many employees working remotely. It only unveiled a hybrid back-to-office policy last month.

A CDC spokesman said: ‘The role of CDC director has historically involved a significant amount of official travel around the globe; requiring the director to be mobile and able to work from anywhere.’

They reiterated that the director works between the agency’s headquarters, the nation’s capital and other sites within the US and abroad. 

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