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10 Things in Politics: Gov’t workers want to WFH forever

Welcome back, I hope you had a relaxing holiday weekend. This is 10 Things in Politics. Sign up here to receive this newsletter. Plus, download Insider’s app for news on the go — click here for iOS and here for Android. Send tips to bgriffiths@insider.com or tweet me at @BrentGriffiths.

Here’s what we’re talking about:

Report about Oklahoma hospitals falls apart: Back on Friday we reported on an interview the local TV outlet KFOR conducted with Dr. Jason McElyea about overdoses on the drug ivermectin in parts of Oklahoma. One hospital with which McElyea is affiliated said over the weekend that it had not treated any such overdose cases, and Insider could not find evidence that ivermectin had an outsize impact in any hospital wait times. McElyea has now told a different outlet that KFOR misquoted him.

What we’re watching today: President Joe Biden is set to tour areas of New Jersey and New York that were hit by Hurricane Ida.

With Phil Rosen.


Heather Harris

Heather Harris, a Social Security Administration employee from Tennessee, says working from home has helped her lose weight, sleep better, and stop taking blood-pressure medication.

Courtesy of Harris.


1. THE FUTURE OF FEDERAL WORK: Like private-sector workers, many in the federal-government workforce have grown accustomed to the flexibility of working from home. But some employees worry their fate will change in the months to come.

Here are some confessions from federal workers who love WFH:

Expanded WFH has been widely popular: Federal employees who talked to Insider cited the expanded telework as the top program their various agencies implemented to support their well-being during the pandemic. At one point, 59% of federal employees teleworked every day compared with 3% before the coronavirus pandemic.

  • What workers are saying: Heather Harris, a Social Security Administration employee, cited weight loss, better sleep, and even the ability to stop taking blood-pressure medication as personal benefits from her new work arrangement. “When I am ready for a break, I just turn everything off and get up and walk away for 15 minutes, and it’s so nice, she said.

Politically, not everyone is on the same page about what’s next: The Biden administration is pushing agencies to encourage telework. But labor unions want to see those promises in future contracts. And some GOP lawmakers want an investigation into worker productivity.

  • Some see this as a moment to radically transform what the government looks like: “There’s all kinds of savings that are possible and improved performance,” said Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that promotes civil service and government transformation.

Workers say agencies that aren’t flexible may lose out: “I think agencies probably realize if they don’t make accommodations on their own, another agency will,” a Department of Energy employee said. “And people may end up switching to the agency that has the best telework policies.”

Federal workers think this arrangement is good for taxpayers too.


2. Unemployment benefits expire for at least 7.5 million Americans: This week’s cutoff represents one of the biggest shutdowns of federal benefits in the past 20 years. Among the programs ending is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which expanded eligibility for benefits to gig workers and self-employed workers among others. The benefits end at a perilous stretch of the pandemic.


3. Special-interest groups spent more than $135,700 for Congress to travel: The trips give business leaders a chance to hobnob with and influence both lawmakers as well as their top staff members who are tasked with writing legislation. The most expensive trip in August took three GOP House members abroad to Kyiv, Ukraine, for a price of $46,933.94. Another trip sponsored by Iowa biofuel interests included a stop at the state fair. Open-government groups fear there are too many loopholes governing the trips.


4. Rescue for Americans stranded in Afghanistan remains grounded: A nonprofit director told NPR at least 19 American citizens and two green-card holders were among more than 600 people stranded near an airport in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the Taliban of holding people “hostage.” McCaul added that the Taliban wouldn’t let more planes depart until its “demands” were met. The latest on the struggle to get remaining Americans out.


5. DOJ promises to protect Texans seeking abortions: Attorney General Merrick Garland said federal law enforcement would get involved if an abortion clinic or reproductive health center was “under attack.” His statement came days after Texas enacted a law banning most abortions in the state. The law has an unprecedented design in that its enforcement relies on private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone else found to have aided someone in breaking the law. How the federal government is exploring ways to challenge Texas’ law.


6. Fauci says Pfizer boosters could be ready in weeks: Dr. Anthony Fauci said the US would probably start distributing extra doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by September 20, but Moderna boosters could be delayed, CNBC reports. The FDA and a CDC panel still need to sign off on Americans getting an extra dose of the COVID-19 shot. More on the news.


7. LGBTQ advocacy group head is out after Cuomo-related scandal: Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, was terminated “for cause” after reports show he advised Andrew Cuomo on how to handle sexual-harassment allegations that eventually cost the New York governor his job, The New York Times reports. David’s ouster comes after a major upheaval at the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, where other Cuomo allies were forced out over similar reports. Cuomo’s scandal is now blowing back on his former aides.


8. Women are getting college degrees far more than men: The education gap has been widening for years at both two- and four-year colleges, The Wall Street Journal reports. “At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high,” it said. Some universities are going out of their way to boost male applicants.


9. Remembering Michael K. Williams: Williams has died at age 54. He was reportedly found dead in his Brooklyn, New York, apartment. Williams was best known for his role as Omar Little on “The Wire” and Albert “Chalky” White on the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” Fellow “Wire” stars paid tribute to the legend.

 


10. Marvel’s “Shang-Chi” smashing records: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was expected to finish the four-day holiday weekend having earned over $90 million in the US, which would triple the Labor Day box-office record. This is the MCU’s first Asian-led superhero film. More on the film’s wild success.

Simu Liu was a stock model after he was laid off from his accounting job.

Simu Liu was a stock model after he was laid off from his accounting job.

FATCAMERA/Getty Images



Today’s trivia question: Today is apparently another beer-related holiday. With that in mind, which former president’s library paid to relocate the contents of an Irish pub to its grounds? Email your guess and a suggested question to me at bgriffiths@insider.com.


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