Winter In Washington: When Sex, Politics, and Football Fail

Thursday - 2/3/2011, 4:00am EST

If you avoid talking about sex, politics or religion and you don't follow the Washington Redskins (Mark Mosely is still our quarterback, right?) you can establish an immediate conversational bond with any D.C. area resident by just mentioning two subjects: OPM or PEPCO.

OPM stands for the Office of Personnel Management. PEPCO is the Potomac Electric Power Company which supplies much of the electric power for major portions of the District and suburban Maryland counties.

OPM has many functions, but its most publicized one is setting the government's weather policy. During times of very bad weather (and especially in winter) OPM decides whether to close government operations here or to offer workers the chance to come in late and/or go home earlier. It is a lose-lose situation. Almost every winter the OPM director (in this case John Berry) becomes the Hosni Mubarak of the western world. Danged if he do, danged if he don't!

The director is criticized if workers are released too early, or too late, or allowed to stay home because of bad weather. Or not released early enough, or not allowed to stay home.

PEPCO is fair game because we have a lot of power outages in this city of a zillion, very large, very old protected trees. And above-ground power lines.

Personal Disclosure: I've been in heat (that somehow sounds wrong!) all winter. But I went without for 7 days during the Blizzard of 2010, and a couple of other times during that unpleasant winter siege. But while hunkered down in relative (at least indoor) heat, or while trudging to work, I noticed PEPCO crews out, in cold miserable weather around the clock.

DC was spared the worst yesterday but other parts of the country got slammed. Chicago public schools closed for the first time in 12 years. Short people in New England needed snow shoes with stilts to get around. Anticipating the worst, we ran a tongue-in-cheek column based on a friend's suggestion. He said the solution was to move the federal government out of Washington, and close schools during the winter.

If that doesn't work, consider these reader comments:

  • "I for one appreciate OPM thinking ahead. It took me 10 hours to get home in the snow storm and wished I had left when told to do so. I didn't think that it would act that fast. Actually, the roads themselves were not bad, it was the gridlock that did it. OPM really should consider sequenced departure (like they had awhile ago). It would have saved me and others lots of time. Telework is a godsend and I definitely take it when I know my 68 mile (one way) commute would be a nightmare coming and going!!" JV at DoD

  • "Common sense is what people need to use. If OPM issues early dismissal then individuals need to adhere to the warning. Last week case in point. Even though it was just raining when the early dismissal was issued, look at the weather channel, listen to the radio, find out the long range weather. I mean, we are all adults, love our jobs, but when OPM issues an early dismissal, it not done lightly. Go home. A few of my co-worker took heed to the warning left, and was home in 40 minutes. I would rather be safe than sorry. I understand that some folks are essential and cannot leave, but those who aren't, let me be blunt. If something should happen to you on your way home, God forbid, and you die. Guess what? They will mourn you, maybe set a scholarship fund to help your children, but that job that was soooooo important for you will be filled and everyone will go on. The deadline you were trying to make or meeting you had to attend, nine times out of ten, would have been cancelled, delayed or just called in when you got home. I saw no need for OPM to apologize for last week's disaster, if anything the commuters who did not take heed to the warnings are the ones who need to apologize. And pay those day care provider the extra money for keeping your children." ABM

  • "With respect to your column, 'Your Call: Your Car, Sanity, Life or a Day Off,' your proposals are most sane, especially moving the Federal Government out of Washington, D.C. I am a Federal retiree for 11 years, after working for The Department of Labor for over 31 years; 22 years of which was in Washington. The traffic was a nightmare even then, let alone now. The various agencies should be dispersed, with some being placed in Washington, and others possibly being placed in Virginia or in some other places in Maryland, or even out further. This would disperse the heavy traffic to some extent and make costs of the commute and housing more affordable.