From torrid inflation to the infant-formula shortage to the war in Ukraine, the US faces an array of crises that demand the full resources and attention of the government. Yet on any given day, large numbers of the 2.1-million-person federal workforce don’t come into the office. That’s a problem not only for the performance of government, but for public faith in it.
Since the start of the pandemic, employees of federal agencies have been permitted to perform many, if not all, of their duties from home. In early 2020, not a single federal agency reported even 25% of employees working remotely full-time; by September 2020, two-thirds of the government did. These included not just bureaucrats based in Washington, but also the 85% of federal workers stationed outside the Beltway, many of whom are responsible for delivering in-person services — from issuing passports to helping veterans and seniors access government benefits. To cite one example, the Social Security Administration kept its field offices largely closed to the public for more than two years.