“It is accurate that food products left behind in offices when maximum telework was implemented is a contributing factor to offices with pest control issues,” FDA spokesperson Stephanie Caccomo said.
Maintenance staff cannot enter individual offices on campus due to the agency’s work on “sensitive and national security information,” Caccomo added.
Less than 10 percent of office building space at the White Oak campus is affected by the field mice issue, according to the agency. The mice are inside the Office of the Commissioner, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and the Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
“Employees assigned to offices that have pest control concerns are either being provided temporary office space or being asked to maintain full-time telework until such time their assigned office is ready for their return,” Caccomo said.
“To be clear, neither pest control nor any other facilities issues are impacting the agency’s return to facilities,” she added, downplaying the effect on agency operations.
The former FDA officials granted anonymity to discuss the rodent issue told POLITICO the field mice predate the pandemic. FDA began consolidating its Washington-area operations in White Oak in the early 2000s, an effort that culminated in 2014.
One former FDA official said staff attributed the mice problem in the early 2010s to construction on the nearly 700-acre campus, adding that an office building that used to house much of FDA staff in Rockville, Md., did not have a major mouse problem.
“It appears not to have gone away,” the person said, especially in areas of the White Oak campus built in later years.
Another former official agreed, noting that even before the pandemic mouse traps were installed in certain offices “at all times.”
“The commissioner’s office, Building 1, was infested with mice,” a former senior FDA official told POLITICO.
AdvaMed CEO Scott Whitaker — the leader of the largest medical device manufacturer trade group — doesn’t think the field mice challenge will impact the agency’s work.
“Last I knew, they were still mostly working from home and have been for two years now,” Whitaker said. “So business as usual in one sense.”
FDA is working with the General Services Administration to develop a plan to clean and sanitize office space. Caccomo noted that all large government and non-government campuses deal with pest control as part of routine facility maintenance.
“The White Oak Campus is located on a 662-acre site that is primarily fields, green space, and woods, which provides a natural habitat for field mice,” Caccomo said. “When the weather turns colder, mice look for ways to enter buildings for warmth and to find food.”
The former FDA official who recalled exasperation more than a decade ago with mice at headquarters noted that the persistent problem is another headache for the agency. Its employees are heading back to the office after an unprecedented workload that has lasted more than two years.
“I know they’re contemplating transitioning back, but nothing will kill morale [like] opening your desk after two years and finding evidence of mice,” the person said. “That’s certainly not the kind of thing that’s going to excite people.”