Coronavirus

Biden Lectures Businesses About Vaccines While Fully Vaccinated Feds Stay Home From Work

The entire federal workforce is required to be vaccinated. So why is the federal bureaucracy still operating as if routine public interactions are a public health threat?

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Now that one of the available COVID-19 vaccines has been officially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), President Joe Biden is leaning on private sector businesses to mandate vaccination for employees and customers.

"If you're a business leader, a nonprofit leader, a state or local leader, who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that. Require it," Biden said Monday. "Do what I did last month and require your employees to get vaccinated or face strict [testing] requirements."

It's true that Biden is in some ways leading by example. In July, he issued an executive order requiring that the roughly 4 million federal employees (and many of the millions of federal contractors) get vaccinated or face weekly COVID testing and other inconveniences.

But vaccines are only a means to getting things back to normal, not an end unto themselves. And, right now, it seems fairly obvious that the federal bureaucracy is not even close to anything resembling normalcy. Until it is, Biden should lay off trying to tell private businesses what to do.

Take the Social Security Administration (SSA), for example. One of the biggest federal agencies—and one that most Americans can't avoid encountering, at least occasionally—employs more than 60,000 people and runs more than 1,200 field offices around the country. And yet, more than four months after COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, many of those offices remain in the same state that they've been since March 2020: closed.

The SSA announced plans for a "partial" reopening of field offices in May, and began allowing beneficiaries to handle some things online that previously would have required an in-person visit. But, bureaucracy being bureaucracy, a lot of what the SSA does requires physical paperwork to be passed around.  That means a lot of the work is being done via mail.

Or, rather, not being done.

A July report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Social Security Administration found massive backlogs at the 73 facilities visited by auditors. One service center "had more than 9,000 unprocessed original documents it had received as early as November 2020," according to the report. At another field office, auditors found "667 unprocessed applications dated as early as July 2020" for new or replacement Social Security cards. In another location, they found "more than 20,000 pieces of returned mail, some of which were over one year old." Half the field office managers interviewed by OIG staff reported being "overwhelmed" by the mail volume.

Auditors concluded that the "SSA has no performance metrics and does not maintain management information on the volume of incoming, outgoing, or pending mail" and, more ominously, that the administration "lacks comprehensive policies and procedures to track and return original documents—including driver's licenses, birth certificates, passports, and naturalization documents—that customers provide as proof of eligibility for benefits" or to obtain a Social Security card.

What if you don't trust the SSA—or, for that matter, the U.S. Postal Service, which has had plenty of pandemic-related issues of its own—not to lose your most important documents? You can still make in-person appointments at an SSA office, but it doesn't seem like an easy process, as Reason contributor Bonnie Kristian recently discovered:

Privately, Kristian told me that she tried to get a new card via the SSA's online portal, only to be told that applying for a new card still requires mailing or hand-delivering key documents. When she visited her local SSA office, an unmasked clerk—sitting behind a sign telling all guests they must be masked—told her the office was closed and that she would have to call to make an appointment. After two phone calls to two different offices, both of which Kristian says "strongly discouraged me from trying to get an appointment," she eventually got one…for next month.

It's not May 2020 anymore. The entire federal workforce is vaccinated or getting tested regularly. Most of the general public is vaccinated as well. Why is the federal bureaucracy still operating as if routine public interactions are a public health threat?

The SSA did not respond directly to Reason's request to provide a timeline for when field offices would be fully reopened. "We are increasing the number of personnel in our field offices to provide more in-office appointments," Nicole Tiggemann, a spokeswoman for the administration, wrote in an email. "Our reentry plan will be phased and will take into consideration health conditions and any applicable labor obligations."

Part of the problem is the union that represents federal employees. In May, the American Federation of Government Employees told Congress in a letter that "remote work works, and has allowed employees of key agencies like the Social Security Administration to continue to deliver essential services." In light of the OIG's report, that claim seems laughable.

But it's not just the SSA that's refusing to get back up to speed. More than 60 percent of American consulates remain fully or partially closed, despite the fact that consular officers have been eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines since May.

"For the open consulates, the wait times have grown from 95 days in April to 189 days in August for business and tourist traveler visas, from 25 to 38 days for student and exchange visitor visas, and from 40 to 51 days for all other nonimmigrant visa categories," notes David J. Bier, a research fellow on immigration issues for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

The slower-than-usual federal bureaucracy is causing cascading issues. As many as 100,000 green cards that would grant permanent residency to immigrant workers could expire in September before they get out the State Department's door. That's just a part of the department's backlog of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas that reportedly tops 500,000. Among other things, that means foreign students waiting on visas so they can come to the United States to study have no idea if they'll get them in time. American families have had travel plans upended unexpectedly. And, of course, the State Department's COVID-related visa-processing issues have contributed to the chaos in evacuating U.S.-affiliated Afghans from Kabul.

In order to address the student visa issues, "we urge the State Department to provide predictable and consistent consular services; maximize alternatives to in-person visa interviews by providing waivers and virtual interviews; extend visa eligibility waivers; authorize staff overtime and increase hiring; and initiate meaningful engagement with outside stakeholders and agencies," a group of 10 senators wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month.

Those are good ideas! It's also somewhat stunning—though depressingly typical—that the federal government is still mandating in-person visa interviews in a world where so much else is being done over Zoom. Either change the rules, or get vaccinated bureaucrats back to work—full time and in their offices. Preferably, do both.

To be sure, there are plenty of aspects of the federal bureaucracy that can only be improved by a COVID-related slowdown. If federal regulators aren't working on new labor rules or if the Department of Commerce seizes up because employees are quitting over the vaccination mandates, there would be no need for concern. If half of the Department of Education simply vanished tomorrow, Thanos-style, would anyone miss it?

Unfortunately, there are parts of the federal government that people must interact with if they want to work a legal job or cross an international border. Those are the positions—you could call them "customer service" jobs, except that's really not fair to people who do actual jobs that serve willing customers—where average Americans have no choice but to deal with the hassle of bureaucracy.

Months after vaccines have been readily available and weeks after Biden ordered federal employees to get the shot, there's simply no excuse for those kinds of government offices not to be fully reopened to the public. Biden should let private businesses set their own rules and keep his focus squarely on the employees and agencies that actually answer to him.

NEXT: Let Afghan Refugees Work

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  1. As long as the stay-at-home federal employees stop getting a paycheck, this would be great.

    1. More examples of Old-White-Joe’s double standards.

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  2. I’m fine with them slow walking the immigration paperwork. But what is the reason for promoting the bureaucracy here?

    1. NewReason leans left.

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    2. There are legitimate functions of the government. There are more functions that they have decided to handle and then not do their job.

      I wouldn’t mind being unable to get a license, if it meant I didn’t need a license. However, the agencies’ lack of labor doesn’t remove the requirement, so it’s the worst of both worlds.

      It’s hardly promoting the bureaucracy to point out they they aren’t doing the jobs they are being paid to do.

  3. Just shut down the SSA, fire all 60,000 drones, and send everyone over 65 $2,500/month.
    Probably cheaper in the long run.
    Let the post office deliver first class mail on Mon, Wed, Fri and tell all the junk mail publishers to use FedEx/UPS. Cut half the USPS staff.

    1. To be fair, USPS does not get taxpayer money. Their costs are solely funded by postage stamps.

      (Interestingly, about a decade ago, they were given the power to set their own prices for stamps, as long as they met certain very aggressive funding milestones for their pension. Congress did this specifically because they knew the post office is dying and they wanted to ensure its pension system wasn’t an unfunded liability. As soon as they received this authorization, they started lobbying to lift the pension funding mandate.)

      1. “no one else has to fund their pensions!”

      2. This has not been true for a long time. We might call them ‘partially self funded’ now. They receive tremendous low interest and interest free “loans” from the federal government in order to cover their consistent billion dollar annual deficits. They are more like Amtrak now, which “self funds” through ticket sales lol

    2. “Probably cheaper in the long run.”
      It might be. One problem is that the SSA is one of the more efficient bureaucracies in the federal government, though that is a really, really, low bar. The average social security check is $1,430.73*

      Even without running the numbers, I would bet that if we sent everyone over 65 a check for, say, $1800, that we could still save the taxpayers money, as well as returning several thousand folks to the private sector, where they would actually produce goods and services people want and need instead of just absorbing taxpayer money. So, a win-win.

      *(https://southfloridareporter.com/how-much-is-the-average-social-security-check/#:~:text=Social%20Security%20offers%20a%20monthly%20benefit%20check%20to,retirees%20typically%20make%20more%20than%20the%20overall%20average.)

  4. In July, he issued an executive order requiring that the roughly 4 million federal employees (and many of the millions of federal contractors) get vaccinated or face weekly COVID testing and other inconveniences.

    “Inconveniences”, eh? I’ll bet that testing is done on Uncle’s time and dime.

    1. Testing and vaccines, like all medical care, is free.
      Didn’t you get the email?

  5. >>I call on you now to do that. Require it

    the more maniacal you get the likelier I am to welcome bars in my face and file lawsuits and make proclamations about how I will never submit.

  6. “Do what I did last month and require your employees abandon Bagram Air Base ”

    Fuck you.

    1. “During a tactical retreat, abandon your most critical facilities first.”

      ~Sun Tzu, after state revision of bourgeois pseudoscience

  7. They know the vaccinated are still vulnerable. What other excuses could there be?

    1. They have thus gone and invented a new thing.. let me call it a “Catch 33”.

      Because we want to “protect” you from getting the WuFlu, we DAMEND you take this injection. But since the injectioni DOES NOT WORK as advertised, we willstill alllow you to play hookey at home, getting ur full paycheck as before, and reducing your workproduct output by fiftypercent or more.

      and since the shots DON”T WORK, we will CONTINUE to demand everyone slap on the mug nappie whenever they get within eyesight of you.

      If FedGov were run like business we’d have maybe fifteen percent of the employees we now have, and a 95% plus on time done right the first time production record. But we don;t hve that, do we? What exists is more like a welfare project, and a poor one at that.

  8. We are starting to see Reason take notice of the government’s messaging around vaccines. But they are still these glancing warning shots. But statements like this from Boehm show that we have a long way to go:
    “But vaccines are only a means to getting things back to normal, not an end unto themselves.”

    If you really think Vaccines will get things back to normal, you need to hop quickly, because you are a frog in a pot, and the water has just about reached boiling. Around 64% of our eligible population (people over the age of 12) are vaccinated. And yet we still have counties going through various stages of lock down. We still have mask mandates in schools. We are still talking about mandates mandates mandates.

    Reason staff continue to fight marginal battles that just assume that the government’s job is to dole out medical advice, encourage or even force us to make certain medical decisions. They assume that our autonomy that has been stolen from us will be given back- even as we see highly vaccinated counties locking down again.

    It is time to stand up and say, “Karen, protect thyself! This is not the government’s job. Stop trying to get EVERYONE ELSE to protect you from a natural pathogen. Stop expecting kids to mask up to protect older people from a natural virus. Stop expecting others to stick needles in their arms to protect you from a virus. Stop expecting a business to enforce the same mandates.”

    Governments are doing this bullshit because their citizens have internalized the basic moral fallacy that others have an obligation to protect them from a basic fact of nature. It is nuts and it is the root of some of the biggest, creepiest losses of autonomy in the modern era.

    1. Not sure the virus is natural.

      1. Many who know are fullycnvinced it is NOT natural. Rea about Phautchee and his homeboys t that viral lab in Wuhan CIty, the work they were doing there, and WHO funded that work (against then curent Fed regulatioins).

    2. It is time to stand up and say…

      The time for that passed awhile ago. Now if you stand up and say such things you are the crazy person. You will be ostracized from society. All good things will be taken from you and you will be put in a cage to rot if you aren’t simply killed as an example to the others. It’s not that a majority is being held in place by fear of the above, no. Truly, the majority believes in all of this. It is you who is the one who is crazy and when they’re done there will be no place left for us to hide.

      1. You think this, but a significant amount of this is due to people being afraid to speak up. Just the other day I had a conversation with several parents who are pretty center left. It was only that we had been hanging out at the pool for 2 – 3 hours and couldn’t chat about the normal banal stuff that we eventually got into masking. Every single one of them thought mask mandates for kids was idiotic. Every single one of them. And every one of them, at the end of the conversation said something to the effect of, “Man I always thought I was crazy- that I was the only one who has a problem with what they are doing to our kids!”

        1. The social pressure of not breaking ranks is insane. My wife and I keep our mouths shut because we don’t want our kids (and to a degree ourselves) to be ostracized.

    3. ^this

  9. Australia is building concentration camps.

    1. I wonder if that’s why I felt a sudden compulsion to re-watch The Great Escape.

      1. Great book/movie. But mostly fiction. Oh the escapes happened, but all the bits about how they did it (ink from potato juice, etc.) was lies meant to hide the help they got from “neutral” actors like the Red Cross.

        This time all those groups will be on the other side.

        1. Yeah, there are some modern follow-up books (including one about how the British tracked down many of the Gestapo perps after the war) that correct the record.

      2. Try “The Prisoner” instead.

        1. Be seeing you!

  10. Heh, why open the offices back up? They’re just going to close them again. I figure there will be fall/winter lockdowns for the foreseeable future.

  11. The offices will never open back up. They have no incentive. There will always be an excuse to stay home.

    1. It’s not like they have to run a profit or anything.

  12. But vaccines are only a means to getting things back to normal, not an end unto themselves.

    WRONG.

  13. Why? Look for the Union label.

  14. “The entire federal workforce is vaccinated or getting tested regularly. Most of the general public is vaccinated as well. Why is the federal bureaucracy still operating as if routine public interactions are a public health threat?”

    They want to present the idea that this is normal and what everyone should be doing, and the government is doing other businesses a big favor by granting them the privilege of being open normally

  15. What did Biden say in his speech? Private companies should mandate vaccinations, and if they don’t, “or face strict requirements”.

    So this is where we have to play the interpretation game with the addled, middle-onset dementia-riddled president.

    Where do we stand on this, libertarians? Just private companies doing their thing in the open, fruited plains of the free market?

    1. It’s a tricky one. I’m in CA and would be pretty happy if Elder is elected and bans mask mandates etc. But using government mandates to fight private/public mandates seems like a bad idea. I don’t have a good answer.

      1. if CONGRESS were to enact laws regulating these things, it would be another story, as those critters in theory at least respond to WE THE PEOPLE. Unka Joey gots nuffum tolose, he KNOWS he’ll never get reelected, and KNOWS no one with the clout and the stones will impeach HIM. He is immune. Particularly since he lives in his very own private dementia bubble. But those Congresscritters need to get ree;ected next year. So there is a little teensy tiny hook in them.

  16. Taliban bombing Kabul airport killing American service people, civilians and Afghans that have collaborated with the US. Yet no stories on Biden’s catastrophe in Afghanistan.
    WHERE ARE YOU REASON?

  17. The federal bureaucracy is not the only one milking the Covid pandemic for all they can get out of it. Here in Michigan such services as the Secretary of State has been and continues to be MIA. Drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, etc. are all extremely difficult. I called in January 2021 to get a vehicle registration transferred: they gave me an appointment in September.

  18. Why wasn’t testing required earlier this year, before vaccines were widely available?

    Same with vaccine mandate cities. They now require either vax or negative test to enter many places. If they actually cared about “keeping people safe” then why didn’t they require negative testing before vaccine was widely available, and when presumably there was more danger?

    These policies are so ridiculous it amazes me more people don’t see right through them.

  19. There is ONLY ONE REASON SSA refuse to set up online/electronic document submittal: they don’t WANT to. Any excsuse they could possibly foat is nonsense, or a flat lie.

    In these days of covidiocy I have drafted and filed for recording at the conuty level documents to establish a mortage, file a full on court case (civil matter) in Superior COurt, including process service of all concerned parties, submitting briefs, , submitting evidence, pleadings. I can renew y vehicle number plates/tags, buy or sell a vehicle, buy an insurance policy for the car, make certified payments on the mortgage, file and pay my state sales tax returns, submit documents for and obtain the medical records for a cmmercial drivnign license, chanrge vehicles on my insurance policy, I can order certified copies of documents such as birth certificates, marriage and divorce decrees, etc. WHY are SSA still stuck on the stoner age?

  20. It is NOT Fully approved by the FDA. That’s simply a lie. The Pfizer shot was given Emergency Use Authorization indefinitely byt he FDA on 8-23-21. Source: https://www.fda.gov/media/150386/download?fbclid=IwAR0noWBQdt2n4DViin14OhsaN7BrmUpGssaWeo_pc4Sw43ER1bMOSXX8orM

    Items 12-13 read as follows: Page 12 – Pfizer Inc.

    • This product has not been approved or licensed by FDA, but has been
    authorized for emergency use by FDA, under an EUA to prevent Coronavirus
    Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for use in individuals 12 years of age and older; and
    • The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the
    declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency
    use of the medical product under Section 564(b)(1) of the FD&C Act unless the
    declaration is terminated or authorization revoked sooner. Condition Related to Export Z. If the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID‑19 Vaccine is exported from the United States,
    conditions C, D, and O through Y do not apply, but export is permitted only if 1) the
    regulatory authorities of the country in which the vaccine will be used are fully
    informed that this vaccine is subject to an EUA and is not approved or licensed by
    FDA and 2) the intended use of the vaccine will comply in all respects with the laws
    of the country in which the product will be used. The requirement in this letter that
    the authorized labeling (i.e., Fact Sheets) be made available to vaccination providers,
    recipients, and caregivers in condition A will not apply if the authorized labeling (i.e.,
    Fact Sheets) are made available to the regulatory authorities of the country in which
    the vaccine will be used. Conditions With Respect to Use of Licensed Product AA. COMIRNATY (COVID-19 Vaccine, mRNA) is now licensed for individuals
    16 years of age and older. There remains, however, a significant amount of Pfizer-
    BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that was manufactured and labeled in accordance with
    this emergency use authorization. This authorization thus remains in place with
    respect to that product for the previously-authorized indication and uses (i.e., for use
    to prevent COVID-19 in individuals 12 years of age and older with a two-dose
    regimen, and to provide a third dose to individuals 12 years of age or older who have
    undergone solid organ transplantation, or who are diagnosed with conditions that are
    considered to have an equivalent level of immunocompromise). BB. This authorization also covers the use of the licensed COMIRNATY (COVID-19
    Vaccine, mRNA) product when used to provide a two-dose regimen for individuals
    aged 12 through 15 years, or to provide a third dose to individuals 12 years of age or
    older who have undergone solid organ transplantation or who are diagnosed with
    conditions that are considered to have an equivalent level of immunocompromise.
    Conditions A through W in this letter apply when COMIRNATY (COVID-19
    Vaccine, mRNA) is provided for the uses described in this subsection III.BB, except
    that product manufactured and labeled in accordance with the approved BLA is
    deemed to satisfy the manufacturing, labeling, and distribution requirements of this
    authorization.
    IV. Duration of Authorization

    Page 13 – Pfizer Inc.

    This EUA will be effective until the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the
    authorization of the emergency use of drugs and biological products during the COVID-19
    pandemic is terminated under Section 564(b)(2) of the Act or the EUA is revoked under Section
    564(g) of the Act.

    Now let’s see Reason Magazine report on that bit of real information so that we finally get some truth in media and end this bullshit reality that’s been foisted on the planet.

    1. LICENSING
      We are issuing Department of Health and Human Services U.S. License No. 2229 to BioNTech Manufacturing GmbH, Mainz, Germany, under the provisions of section 351(a) of the PHS Act controlling the manufacture and sale of biological products. The license authorizes you to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce, those products for which your company has demonstrated compliance with establishment and product standards.
      Under this license, you are authorized to manufacture the product, COVID-19 Vaccine, mRNA, which is indicated for active immunization to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in individuals 16 years of age and older.

      That is a flat out FDA license. Clear as it gets.

  21. “The entire federal workforce is required to be vaccinated.”

    Nope, this is incorrect. There’s no blanket requirement like this. However, if you’re not vaccinated or do not disclose your vaccination status, then you are subject to testing when working “on-site”.

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