Snow Stopped but Fallout Continues

Wednesday - 12/23/2009, 4:00am EST

The fallout from any government decision to close (or not) operations in the Washington area always lasts a lot longer than the snow itself.

The DC/East Coast blizzard was a December record for us. Though a mere dusting (as we are oft reminded) to hardier folk from Chicago, Denver and Fairbanks. But it provides full employment for plow-truck drivers, reporters and others who live for bad weather. So it's little wonder that this recent "blizzard" has brought in comments from all points.

One caller wanted to know what a snow-day shutdown costs the government. My guess is that you could pick a figure, with any number of zeroes, and be able to find some politician or statistician who would defend it. And some reporter who would, if it was outrageous enough, use it as gospel.

Part of the problem is what does one measure? Wages paid for work not performed? Lost productivity? How about the savings by avoiding gas-guzzling gridlocks, safety issues, etc. etc. My guess would be that it is somewhere between a cost to the taxpayers of $1.3 billion to a savings to taxpayers of several bajillion dollars. That's a ballpark figure, of course.

Good luck with that one!

We also have a little I-95 rivalry going on between Washington and Baltimore. Social Security Administration employees are going to get the full day off on Thursday. Feds here will get half a day off. But while the government shut down non-emergency operations here Monday, civil servants in Baltimore carried on as per usual. To which an SSA worker in Baltimore (Woodlawn) speculated "our new building manager...came to us from Region 10. The Alaska Region. This last snow fall to him was a mere dusting!"


In yesterday's column, a fed noted the problem that a government shutdown creates for on-site contractors. Most are forced to take the time off, but without pay. As Georgia-based reader Paul Davison put it:

We don't specify the terms of employment between a contractor and its employees, so we don't have any say in whether the employees get paid for unscheduled "down times". We often forget that contractor employees aren't government employees. We shouldn't be trying to supervise them or control their leaves or (with limited exceptions covered by statutes) set their pay and benefits.

Al K. says we should all take a deep breath and relax.

People who complain about not getting enough time off should read/watch Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". Bob Cratchett was fortunate if he got ONE day off a year with pay. I wonder what he would think of people who get 26 days annual, 13 days of sick leave, and 10 holidays plus Christmas Eve.


Then there is Roxanne who works in the real world beyond the beltway. Her comment:

Mike, Tell Washington to take another day off!!! With senior leadership nowhere around we had to rely on ourselves for supervision and guidance. Guess what? We got a helluva lot done!!!

Finally, this comment from a fed in northeast Maryland:

I read your article and needed someone to write to. I work at Aberdeen Proving Ground. It did not close Monday when all the other governmental offices closed. And I got charged leave even though there was snow and black ice in the parking lot of my apartment complex and my car got stuck. Unhappy at APG.

To reach me:

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