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Archive for February 11th, 2010

DorobekINSIDER: Back to work for feds in DC, OPM defends closure decisions

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OPM has decided to open DC federal offices on Friday — although under a 2-hour delay and under an unscheduled leave policy. From OPM’s Web site:

  • Employees should plan their commutes so that they arrive for work no more than 2 hours later than they would normally arrive. Employees who arrive for work more than 2 hours later than their normal arrival time will be charged annual leave or leave without pay for the additional period of absence from work.
  • Employees who cannot report for work may request unscheduled leave for their entire scheduled workday.
  • Telework employees are expected to report for work on time.
  • Emergency employees are expected to report for work on time.

Meanwhile, OPM Director John Berry is defending the decision to shut down the federal government in DC for much of the week.

His statement:

“First and foremost, I want to assure every American that their government is working for them, as it has been throughout the snow emergency. Over 87% of government workers live and work outside the National Capital Region, and the vast majority of them are functioning normally. Within the National Capital Region, emergency and mission-critical staffers are at their posts or teleworking. We are receiving daily reports from across government that many thousands more are also teleworking.

The decision to close government buildings in the National Capital Region has two components: first, the safety of our employees and the public. Second, maintaining government operations to the greatest extent possible. As Director of OPM, this decision rests with me, and I will always accept responsibility for it.

The Federal government has plans and systems to maintain operations during emergencies like this one. We are still digging out from a blizzard of historic proportions, and some work has doubtless been delayed, but all the work will get done. Some buildings have been closed, but the people who do the work have been open for business. We’ve equipped many of them with tools like notebook computers, Blackberries, and secure Internet connections that allow them to work from almost anywhere.

Traditionally, OPM has calculated the cost of closure as the cost of giving all Federal workers in the National Capital Region a paid day off. But with so many emergency and mission-critical personnel reporting to work as scheduled, and so many others teleworking, that calculation is outdated. With the new data that agencies have been reporting to us throughout the week, we will be able to update this calculation.

The new cost calculation will be one component of a larger assessment of lessons learned that we are already working on. The data and experience gained from this emergency are helping the government to be even better prepared for future storms and other events that might cause widespread disruptions in the National Capital Region.

But despite rumors, OPM says that the President’s Day holiday will go on. There had been some rumors that federal agencies might open on the holiday to make up for lost time. That is NOT true. The holiday goes forward.

Written by cdorobek

February 11, 2010 at 7:05 PM

DorobekINSIDER poll: What should be the federal government’s operating status for FRIDAY?

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Washington, DC is pretty much paralyzed again today — again, after being pummeled by snow storm after snow storm. (At least we hit the record — if we’re going to go through this torture, we might as well get the bragging rights of saying that we survived snowpocalypse 2010.)

NASA image courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Michon Scott.

The federal government is closed for the fourth day running — and that comes after DC feds closed early last Friday in anticipation of the last storm. Wednesday on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, we spoke to John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management and the guy who has to make the call as to whether the federal government is open or not — on his 51st birthday, no less. And we got to talk to him about making that decision.

Several interesting points from Berry. He tells Federal News Radio that OPM is going to reexamine the often mentioned figure of $100 million per day cost of the federal government closing. He notes that figure is 20-years-old — and doesn’t take into account all the people who are working nor people who telework.

But we’re also looking into telework questions such as whether agency policies don’t fully take telework into account.

Regardless, the decision to close the federal government today seemed relatively easy, particularly when DC’s MetroRail announced that above-ground stations would be closed. But — the decision about Friday seems more difficult as there is increasing pressure to open. That being said, everybody is cognisant of 1996 when the federal government opened before the system was able to handle it.

So the question today — if you were OPM Director John Berry, what decision would you make about the federal government in DC’s operating status?

What say you?

The most remarkable thing about this story is how people really are getting some work done. People are so much more mobile these days — and while they can’t do everything, work is getting done.

As one person posted on my Facebook page:

Instead of emphasizing that the federal govt is closed for the 4th straight day someone in the fed govt should get out the message that while Headquarters offices are in DC, there are regional offices of every branch in every agency that are up and running and keeping the govt working. This happens when other areas around the country when there are hurricanes, tornadoes or whatever emergency happens. Those govt officials are every bit as competent as those that are in DC.

Point taken.

Written by cdorobek

February 11, 2010 at 10:42 AM