Federal Commuter Heal Thyself?

Friday - 2/4/2011, 4:00am EST

A year ago this weekend the Washington area got what turned out to be a 32.4 inch snowall. That is child's play in some places but it was a "would-you-like-more-whine-with-your-cheese?" event in these parts. We hit a record 54. 9 inches for the winter of 2009-2010.

Remember, this is not International Falls or Murmansk. We're on the south side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Most feds here got most of the following week off. Many other places were harder hit. And unless global warming makes a fast comeback, the next couple of weeks in the mid-Atlantic are prime snow time. Since we have 285,000 federal civilian workers inside the beltway, Uncle Sam's snow policy is important to all of us.

Pundits, navel-gazers, traffic experts and safety specialists continue to debate the way the government here has handled things so far this year. The debate will continue until this time next year. A lot of people think the government (and power companies) could have done a better job. That is. releasing employees even earlier and/or letting everybody stay home.

But a number of feds have told us they think Uncle did pretty well, and that it is up to individual employees to take more responsibility for their own health, safety and commute. As in take leave time without waiting to see what the government will grant them.

Examples:

  • "More on your article about OPM's early release of employees last week: I can't believe the people who are calling for some kind of slow release of employees. They must not deal with other people on a regular basis. You can issue all the edicts you want that people should leave in a staggered fashion but people are going to do what they feel is in their own best interest anyway. Some people panic at the least little thing every winter partially because of what happens with the roads. Frankly, OPM tried to accomplish a staggered release last week with a two hour early dismissal. Everybody was supposed to leave two hours earlier than normal and, since everybody doesn't leave at the same time, people should have departed work at different times. But, as soon as some people see flakes falling from the sky and are told that early dismissal has been announced, they take leave so they can hit the roads as soon as possible, which of course means they are on the road 'out of sequence.' Also, you have other people who procrastinate or dawdle for whatever reasons, like some of the people who commented on your article with mention of a 'sequenced departure,' and they too add to the problem because they left work out of sequence. The only way everybody would have gotten home before the roads were bad last week would have been if OPM had started a staggered release soon after people got to work in the morning so the last people to arrive at work would get home before conditions got bad. But, that would have required a crystal ball and would have caused angry comments from everyone about releasing people unnecessarily early. As you say, OPM never will get it 'just right' because somebody always will find fault no matter what path they choose. I, for one, applaud how they acted that day." David D.

  • "I've read a number of comments from readers and officials, 'OPM should have staggered the early release.' The notice I received was, 2 hours early release. That means that you can leave 2 hours before your usual departure time without the need to use leave. As I have a staggered work week, I could have left at 4pm that day, without taking leave. On a different day, it could have been a earlier time.

    "I checked the weather report on-line, and decided that I would like to be at least halfway home before the precipitation started falling. I took an additional hour of leave by leaving at 3pm. It was just a bit past the halfway mark when I ran into the first bit of the storm. The last miles that were off the Interstate were not in good shape at all, the development streets were nearly impassable and 6 inches of snow greeted me in the driveway. I did get home however; about a half hour before my usual arrival. That was a well spent hour of leave." H.E. from DOE

    "PS. I learned to Drive in Upstate New York. It's one thing to drive in snow. It's another to drive in snow with dozens of cars all around you."