Roughly three-quarters of the staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are allowed to work at home most or all of the time, according to a new report that casts doubt on a planned agency overhaul because of the lack of personal interaction.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced plans in August to reform the agency so that it is more proactive and shares data and guidance in a swift and frank manner with the public. The idea is to avoid some of the confusion and sluggishness that hampered the CDC response to COVID-19.
But 10,020 of the CDC’s 12,892 full-time employees, or 78% of its full-time workforce, are working remotely all or most of the time, Kaiser Health News reported using data from a Freedom of Information Act request.
A CDC document said remote work can help recruit and retain staffers while slashing overhead costs by reducing leased office space.
Yet KHN quoted a series of former employees and experts who said the lack of in-person interaction will make it difficult to overhaul the culture within the agency.
For one thing, Dr. Walensky is away from Atlanta headquarters for frequent travel and, like past directors, must be in Washington from time to time.
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Current employees told KHN their remote work did not impact their duties but the situation might make them less connected to their colleagues or the agency’s mission.
Many federal workers began working remotely when the pandemic hit in early 2020. While most of the National Institutes of Health employees have returned to the office, many Food and Drug Administration employees still work remotely, KHN reported.
Lawmakers such as Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, have challenged Dr. Walensky and other agency heads about remote work during congressional hearings.
Dr. Walensky told him that lab workers and other important employers must be on-site but other workers can be more efficient off-site.
“People at the CDC are working well, they’re working hard, and they don’t necessarily need to be on-site in Atlanta,” Dr. Walensky testified in September. “In fact, oftentimes, they’re more productive off-site.”