Amid reports that COVID-19 is rising again, and additional lockdowns could be returning, local governments in the heavily blue-leaning cities and counties surrounding Washington, D.C., chided federal agencies for allowing employees to ditch the office.
Local government employees for the District of Columbia, as well as suburbs in Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland, have mostly returned to work, while working a few days each month from home. Their representatives sent a letter Wednesday suggesting that federal employees should do the same.
A July Government Accountability Office report that examined 24 federal agencies said the federal government “used 25 percent or less of their headquarters buildings’ capacity during three weeks in January, February, and March 2023.”
“All 24 agencies said that their in-office workforce has not returned to pre-pandemic levels due to increased use of telework and remote work,” the GAO report says. “Some agencies said that workplace flexibilities, such as episodic telework and remote work, existed before the pandemic but are used much more frequently now.”
However, many federal employees who previously worked in their D.C. offices have continued the 2020-era COVID-19 lockdown schedule.
“As you look to implement updated schedules for the federal workplace, there may be lessons learned from our collective experience, as our local governments have transitioned over the last several years from a remote environment to in-person and hybrid schedules,” the D.C. Council of Governments said in the letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young.
The letter notes that in April, the OMB advised federal agencies to “substantially increase meaningful in-person work at federal offices.” Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients called on federal managers to “aggressively execute this shift in September and October.”
“For those who are eligible to telework, employees typically report to work in-person two to three days a week (not including weekends),” the letter signed by officials from 23 jurisdictions with about 100,000 total county and municipal employees, says. “We have found that this strikes an appropriate balance and provides the best level of service for taxpayers. Being able to work together, troubleshoot problems, take on big ideas, and provide face-to-face service for our residents is achieved while still providing flexibility for our personnel to work from home.”
In 2022, several Democratic mayors as well as Democratic governors reportedly vowed to avoid additional COVID-19 lockdowns. This came after the party seemed far more amenable to lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccine mandates in 2020 and 2021.
The Daily Signal reached out to Dallas Democratic Mayor Eric Johnson, who has expressed skepticism about future lockdown measures if COVID-19 rates increase. However, his office said Johnson is out of the country on city business and is unavailable to comment.
The Daily Signal also reached out to spokespersons for Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, both Democrats.
Both were elected last year. Their predecessors Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles and Lori Lightfoot in Chicago had also expressed skepticism of future lockdowns.
In 2022, some of the Democratic governors who came under the most scrutiny for the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 expressed skepticism.
The Daily Signal contacted the offices of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, all of whom are Democrats. None of them responded.
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