EXCLUSIVE: Vast Majority of CDC Workers Working Remotely

EXCLUSIVE: Vast Majority of CDC Workers Working Remotely
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., on April 23, 2020. (Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

Over three-quarters of workers at the nation’s largest public health agency are working remotely, even after COVID-19 metrics have plunged following fresh peaks in January, according to data obtained by The Epoch Times.

Of the approximately 12,679 full-time workers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 78 percent are either not working in-person at all, or are only doing so part of the time, the CDC’s records office told The Epoch Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA).
The numbers, which have not previously been made public, show agency workers aren’t heeding President Joe Biden, who called in his State of the Union speech “for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”

The CDC’s headquarters are in Atlanta.

“People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office. We’re doing that here in the federal government. The vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person,” Biden said at the time.

A CDC spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

“It took a FOIA request from The Epoch Times to find out that more than half of the CDC employees are working remotely in some capacity. We don’t know if these are lab techs or people who are in the front office. That’s part of the problem,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, told The Epoch Times via email.

“What we do know is if this is the public health equivalent of war, then we need the federal agency on the frontline to show up in the office, be the example, maximize efficiency, and do everything possible to make sure that COVID does not impact our lives any more than it did. Let’s go CDC, let’s get back to work,” he added.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) questions U.S. health officials in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) questions U.S. health officials in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Remote and Telework

The FOIA response does not delineate which types of workers remain fully or partially offsite, and which are working full-time in person.

But it shows that 5,440 workers remain fully remote, 4,467 spend at least some time working remotely, and just 2,772 workers report to work in-person each day.

A worker with a remote agreement is able to work without any expectation of reporting to the agency worksite, according to the CDC’s operational policy, which was also obtained by The Epoch Times. Telework agreements have workers report to the workplace several times every two weeks.

Questioned by Cassidy during a hearing in Washington in June, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that “the people who need to be on site in the lab are on site in the lab; people who are deployed to the field are deployed internationally and working outside the workplace.”

But she declined to say whether laboratory workers were in their labs for 40 hours a week.

Many CDC workers shifted to working remotely after the pandemic started, Scott Kemp, head of the CDC’s Community Transportation Service, told a blog in 2021.

The only workers who reported in-person were contract security officers and “scientific experts,” he said.

Participation in telework and remote work “is highly encouraged for those positions deemed eligible,” with eligibility depending on job functions rather than job titles or work schedules, according to the operational policy.

During the June hearing, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) questioned why Walensky and other agency heads did not seem to know how many of their workers were working remotely in some fashion.

“That makes me wonder how you measure whether people are actually working when at home,” he said.

The policy says that workers who work remotely “must be able to work without direct supervisory oversight” and that they must complete specific training before obtaining a remote or telework agreement.

Walensky herself works mostly from home, which is in Massachusetts, according to a Time magazine profile published this year. It said she flies to Atlanta for several days each month. During the past five days, Walensky told Cassidy at the time, she was in the office for two days. She declined to say how many days she'd worked in-person over the previous month.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

HHS Guidance

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the CDC’s parent agency, issued guidance in March stipulating that employees who have been working remotely will be given at least 30 days advance notice before having to resume working in-person.
The agency says that employees with an approved written Workplace Flexibilities Agreement enabling telework must physically report to the worksite at least two days every two weeks.

Similar to the CDC policy, a remote work agreement lets workers work offsite with no expectation they will appear in person.

The CDC’s policy says that the agency “supports and encourages telework, and remote work.” Among the benefits it lists are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving access to skilled workers who are not located in the Atlanta area or near other CDC offices.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which manages the government workforce, says that it expects “many more” federal workers to telework on a regular basis in the future.

Kemp told the blog, called Georgia Commute Options, that some CDC workers worked remotely at times before the pandemic. But he foresaw the number of CDC workers doing so would be much higher because of how well the arrangement was working.

“If you look at how many people teleworked before the pandemic, I think that number is going to double because we’ve learned how to do it, and there are real benefits to it,” he said. “We’ve seen a reduction in stress and an increase in productivity. Managers have been convinced that work gets done when employees are remote.”