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IRS and Social Security close field offices across the country as some federal services start shrinking in response to the coronavirus

  March 17, 2020 | By Lisa Rein and Kimberly Kindy, The Washington Post

The Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday began closing field offices in Northern California, Seattle, Puerto Rico and the New York City area to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus — and all of its tax counseling sites for the elderly. The Social Security Administration closed 1,400 field and hearing offices Monday night.

Federal courts are rescheduling trials. The Food and Drug Administration has suspended inspections of imported food and medical devices, and the Washington Monument has closed to the public.

These public services are the first signs that the public health crisis is forcing the federal government to slow down, even as the Trump administration urges agencies to send their staffs home to work remotely and keep the government running.

The federal government, the nation’s largest employer, was until this week a holdout in confronting the shifts in daily life that health authorities have been urging Americans to make for weeks. But several agencies now are starting to limit their employees’ contact with the public where they can.

Taxpayers and the elderly now have to speak with IRS or Social Security agents by phone to ensure that they do not come into physical contact with one another or with the employees serving them. Families hoping to entertain their out-of-school children in national parks will find about a dozen sites closed from California to Washington, D.C.

The White House Office of Management and Budget, which is holding daily conference calls with federal agency leaders, is urging telework for employees across the country and paid leave for those whose jobs do not allow them to work remotely.

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