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

Thursday - 2/11/2010, 7:05pm EST

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.