A number of federal agencies have been cutting back, in some cases almost eliminating, telework programs. In some places the number of teleworkers had dropped from thousands to hundreds. The number of days the dwindling teleworkers are allowed to do their thing from home has also been cut dramatically.
It’s impossible to judge the motives of big political bosses and their henchpersons who have been downsizing a program that Congress has encouraged, for decades. In a multi-jurisdictional area like Washington, D.C., teleworking has almost certainly helped keep our traffic, which is already horrible, from being even worse. A lot of feds commute from Maryland’s Eastern shore and the eastern half of West Virginia. Many D.C. area workers live in Baltimore but drive to the Pentagon in Virginia. Fredricksburg, Virginia, is home base for people who work at the National Security Agency between D.C. and Baltimore.
Lobotomizing the telework program could be happening for a couple of reasons:
It could, as they say, be done to make agencies more efficient and customer-friendly, put more people in Social Security offices where they deal face-to-face with sometimes bewildered, elderly taxpayers. It could be they strongly suspect that too many teleworkers are also performing other chores — watching their own kids, running an off-the-books day care center or just goofing off — rather than doing the job Uncle Sam pays them to do. If so, and if they have strong evidence, it is probably a good thing under normal situations. Or,
It could be that whacking teleworking programs is a way of taking a shot at unions which many Trump administration appointees don’t like — all the national leaders of all the unions endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton — and believe are conducting union, sometimes maybe political business on government time in government space. They’ve tangled with the unions, primarily the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, even before day one. Hitting teleworkers hits their members.
Whatever the initial and underlying reason or reasons for downsizing teleworking, the politicians should be aware there is a new kid on the block: coronavirus.
While the administration is playing down the impact of the virus in the U.S. (so far), it is one thing to soothe and not to encourage panic. It is another to look the other way when a rapidly-growing, virtually unknown disease is now worldwide.
Career bureaucrats which include some of the best medical and scientific minds on Earth continue to boldly speak out saying, as diplomatically as possible, that it’s not a matter of if but when and for how long we have much bigger problems on our hands. China is locking down cities and regions. Japan is closing schools for a month. People are being quarantined for 14 days — is that too much, or not enough — all over the place, sometimes twice.
Bottom line is nobody knows where this is going, except it’s probably not going to be good. Meanwhile, the federal government, especially in cities and communities where it is a primary employer, ought to be grooming more people for teleworking just in case.
Before she was a movie star, Marilyn Monroe was the Artichoke Queen of Castroville, California. The town is the country’s lead produce of artichokes and every year holds a festival to celebrate the crop. Monroe was crowned the first queen in 1947, when she still went by Norma Jean Baker.