(CNN)As the government recommends to businesses that some employees should consider working from home amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Trump administration is confronting decisions it made to force federal workers to work at the office.
This week, the Social Security Administration, which frequently deals with elderly Americans in its offices around the country, reduced the options for employees to work from home at a time when they may be most vital.
Days after the first confirmed coronavirus death in the US, the second phase of cuts to the telework program at the Social Security Administration went into effect.
The cuts have reduced, or in some cases eliminated, employees’ abilities to work from home despite teleworking being a key request of their labor unions and a recommendation from other government officials to protect the federal workforce from the outbreak.
Teleworking could be especially beneficial for federal employees like those at SSA, some of whom interact frequently with the elderly. White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said on Wednesday that the elderly are among the most vulnerable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that early implementation of interventions such as teleworking or remote-meeting options in workplaces can reduce the community spread and impact of infectious pathogens like the novel coronavirus.
Guidance from the Office of Personnel Management mandates that telework be included in the continuity of operations plans each federal agency has for situations like this coronavirus outbreak.
However, Michael Cogar, a public affairs specialist for OPM told CNN, “Each agency is responsible for determining when and how to use telework that works best for its mission and workforce.”
In addition to SSA, seven other agencies also reduced their telework policies in the wake of OPM guidelines last summer. Like SSA, the Environmental Protection Agency “has made no changes to its telework policies” and is monitoring the virus, according to a spokesperson for the agency.
The lack of change from federal agencies could be a result of the limited confirmed cases. So far, none are in Washington, DC.
However, a Department of Homeland Security facility in Washington state told all its employees to telework if possible after an employee was found to have visited a Seattle nursing home associated with the coronavirus outbreak.
On Wednesday, NASA told CNN that it was making Friday “agencywide telework day” as part of a drill to test its ability to operate in the midst of an outbreak, a story first reported by Politico.
Federal agencies that cut their telework policies recently have, as of Wednesday, not reversed course amid the rising cases of coronavirus.
Nicole Tiggemann from SSA’s press office told CNN that the agency is “working closely with the CDC and remains prepared to deal with contingencies under our continuity of government plans.”
While the cuts look different depending on