Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen set up gear at a mass coronavirus test center in Upper Dublin Township, Pa., March 20, 2020.

Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen set up gear at a mass coronavirus test center in Upper Dublin Township, Pa., March 20, 2020. Air Force Senior Airman Wilfredo Acosta

Feds Have Cut Anti-COVID Workforce By More Than 60%

As cases tick up nationwide, administration officials say they have demobilized feds as missions are completed.

The federal government has dramatically slashed the number of employees it has deployed to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, with the leading agency in charge of those efforts saying it has scaled back as it has “completed” work.

At the peak of pandemic response efforts, the Trump administration had deployed more than 50,000 federal employees around the country for various initiatives and projects, according to a Health and Human Services Department spokesperson. That number dropped to fewer than 20,000 as of Sept. 28, according to an updated count from the Department of Homeland Security, marking a decline of more than 60%. 

At least 51,000 Americans tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and 916 died from related symptoms. That is down from the peak daily case count in July and daily death count in April, but new cases and patient hospitalizations have ticked up in recent weeks. Several states are currently experiencing their worst coronavirus outbreaks since the pandemic began. 

Still, an HHS spokesperson said the drop-off in deployed federal personnel has corresponded to fewer needs at the state, local, tribal and territorial level. 

“As requests emerge to conduct additional testing, surveillance, and other mitigation efforts to stop the spread of this virus, the federal government assists with deploying personnel to these specified areas to help as needed,” the spokesperson said. “Demobilization efforts occur as needs are met and as federal agencies, states, and other requestors of federal aid deem efforts on the ground completed.”

After Government Executive inquired about the decline, DHS sent out a weekly update on the federal government’s response efforts that for the first time in several months did not include an update on the number of deployed federal personnel. 

Included in the count are federal employees from HHS and DHS, as well as the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. DHS’ Federal Emergency Management Agency has led the operational coordination for the interagency response, with FEMA saying it is “constantly tailoring staffing and resources across agencies, ensuring we can provide support where and when it’s needed most.” In May, FEMA began an effort to distribute personal protective equipment to federal employees throughout government. 

Deployed federal employees’ missions have included standing up and staffing temporary hospitals, administering testing sites and leading screening and quarantine efforts at ports of entry. About 32,000 Americans are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, a dramatic decrease from peaks in the spring and summer.