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Many Federal Workers Must Still Go to Work Because Agencies Are ‘Scared to Death’ of Making Decisions


Despite dozens of federal employees testing positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus this month, and despite the White House asking executive agencies to offer “maximum telework flexibilities to eligible workers,” most of the 2.1 million people who make up the federal workforce are reportedly still being forced to report to their offices.

For weeks, the Trump administration said it was preparing federal employees to be capable of handling a heavy workload while telecommuting, but the administration has been very slow in rolling out any specifics regarding the transition and very few on the federal workforce are currently being permitted to work remotely. That includes many who told the Washington Post on Sunday that they are already fully set up to work from home.

One senior manager at a federal agency who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Post that those in charge are “scared to death” to make decisions on remote work without getting explicit approval from the top.

“Every agency is scared to death to do anything without getting approval, and they don’t want to be first,” the senior manager said.

Lauri Dahlem, a legal assistant at the Social Security Administration’s disability hearing office in Michigan, told the Post that her request to work remotely was denied despite the fact that her husband was recovering from complications from a stem cell transplant to treat cancer and all of her work can be completed from home.

“My supervisor said I was exempted because I’m only taking care of someone who’s sick,” said Dahlem, an Army veteran and former military police officer. “I want to work. I’m a very capable worker. It’s insane.”

Dahlem also noted that all eight of the administrative law judges that work in her office were still hearing cases in-person as of Friday.

“We’re seeing agency after agency not release people” to work from home, David Cann, director of field services and education at the American Federation of Government Employees, also told the news outlet. “If I’m a manager who is a jerk, or disengaged, they’re saying, ‘I’m not going to do it.’ ”

[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.