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Trump Confuses Telework With Telemedicine

Asked at a press conference if he was moving to increase federal employee telework, the president referred to telehealth efforts underway.

This week, lawmakers called on President Trump to issue an executive order mandating expanded telework at federal agencies as efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus ramp up across the country. 

“Voluntary guidance is not enough—agencies need clear orders,” a group of senators wrote. “In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and we hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in our states on a daily basis.”

In a press conference Thursday, the president was asked directly whether he would move to increase federal telework. In his response, Trump confused telework with telehealth initiatives. Here is the exchange:

Q. What are your plans for government workers? Are you moving for the government as well to start doing more teleworking?

A. We are, and we’re using the medical term of telemedicine, and it’s been incredibly busy and really where people don’t have to, I mean some people can’t do it anyway. They can’t get up, they can’t see a doctor, but we’re using this and it’s been telehealth, different names, and I will tell you that it’s been really successful. It’s helped a lot of people out where they don’t have to, and they can’t, and even from a safety reason if they are positive, if they are feeling poorly they can’t do it, or we don’t want them transmitting anything to anybody else.

Several agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Transportation Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, have shifted to telework for virtually all of their employees in recent days. Others have been slower to expand telework availability, even as employees have pushed for it.

The Office of Management and Budget has issued guidance to agencies calling for maximum use of telework by federal employees and contractors, and  “minimizing face-to-face interaction” at federal offices.