Walensky Defends Most of CDC Workforce Working Remotely

Sen. Cassidy: Hard to trust CDC after lack of transparency

Walensky Defends Most of CDC Workforce Working Remotely
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sept. 14 defended how most of the agency's workers are working remotely every day or some days.

"The people who need to be at CDC are at CDC," Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) during a hearing in Washington.

Cassidy had entered into the record an Epoch Times article detailing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) response that found just under 22 percent of the CDC's nearly 13,000 workers are working full time in person, while approximately 43 percent are completely remote. The rest are in between.

Cassidy expressed frustration that Walensky and the CDC repeatedly rebuffed his efforts to get the numbers and said the trust between the public and the CDC has "dissipated" over the lack of transparency. He noted that the CDC is requesting billions more in emergency funding and questioned why it should be given.

"It's incredibly frustrating that a deliberate decision was made not to be transparent with the American people as regards the amount of people actually showing up to work. It takes a FOIA request from a newspaper. And now you're asking for billions more. Why should we trust [you]?" Cassidy asked.

Walensky then said the employees who need to work in person at the CDC, which is based in Atlanta, are there, mentioning laboratory workers specifically.

"We have many people in the field in 60 different countries," she said, adding later that workers are often "more productive" offsite.

Walensky Works Remotely

Cassidy noted that still left many workers who aren't in the field working remotely or at home. Walensky said many workers, including herself, are often on the road, citing how she was in Washington and had recently traveled to Atlanta and New Mexico. According to profiles of Walensky, she often isn't in Atlanta and works sometimes from her home in Massachusetts.
Walensky recently announced a reformation of the agency after internal reviews concluded the CDC didn't do as well as it should have during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cassidy quoted Dr. Richard Besser, the acting CDC director during the Obama administration, who told The New York Times recently that he couldn't see big changes being made while Walensky sees most workers through a screen.

“I don’t know how you motivate and inspire culture change when people aren’t together,” Besser said.

Cassidy asked Walensky how many workers were showing up to work in person before the pandemic.

"I don't have those numbers for you," Walensky responded.

"I don't think anybody in here or anybody watching really thinks that only 22 percent of the CDC employees showed up for work at the building before the pandemic. They think it was probably 78 percent, and now the number's reversed," Cassidy said. "It's going to be hard for me to support more appropriations until we have a better relationship, a more trusting relationship, a more transparent relationship between the agency and Congress, which you're asking to fund your activities."