USDA closes office wing due to coronavirus but faces telecommuting concerns
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) closed a wing of its headquarters after one of its employees tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting concerns from some employees about the agency’s telecommuting policies.
A USDA employee tested positive for the virus after developing a fever late last week.
USDA closed the affected portion of its southern building for cleaning, telling employees they would have to work remotely until the area was cleared.
“All employees with an office on the second floor of the sixth wing should start teleworking effectively immediately. This is to ensure the health and safety of our Sixth Wing employees while continuing the effectiveness of our department’s mission, ”a USDA agricultural marketing service administrator wrote to employees.
A USDA spokesperson confirmed the outbreak.
“On Sunday, March 15, a USDA employee in the National Capital Region (NCR) informed the USDA that they had received a positive test result for the coronavirus. On the same day, the USDA informed employees working in the employee’s immediate vicinity that they should begin telecommuting immediately to ensure the safety and health of our employees, “a spokesperson told The Hill via email.
“The USDA also announced on Sunday that maximized teleworking is available to NCR employees starting Tuesday, March 17,” the email states.
But USDA employees say they have received mixed information about the agency’s policy. In internal emails reviewed by The Hill, a USDA employee informs others that if more than three employees on a given team wish to telework, the plan must be approved by the Secretary Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court Decides Pipeline Can Take Over New Jersey Land Study: EPA Underestimates Methane Emissions From Oil and Gas Development | Kevin McCarthy Establishes Climate Task Force, Other Matters The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Election day in Georgia has finally arrived; Trump Hopes Pence “Suffers for Us” to Reverse Results Civil War Between the MAGA Establishment and GOP Could Give Democrats Total Control MOREthe office.
“If it affects more than 3 people, I need approval from the Secretary’s Office,” writes one employee.
This leaves the decision on whether or not to allow teleworking to the heads of various agencies within the USDA, which include the Forest Service, the Agricultural Marketing Service, and the Agricultural Services Agency, among others.
The USDA pointed out to The Hill Tuesday that the three-person policy was no longer in effect.
“People have been told to maximize teleworking for employees starting Tuesday, March 17, 2020 through Friday, April 3, 2020,” a spokesperson said via email.
The federal government has strict agreements that stipulate when and if employees can work from home. Many managers have encouraged employees to start entering into teleworking agreements.
Updated at 13:33