OPM's Berry: Telework 'powerful tool' in snowstorms

Monday - 1/31/2011, 4:22pm EST

John Berry, Director, Office of Personnel Management

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Last week's snowstorm offered lessons learned for the Office of Personnel Management as the Washington, D.C., region faces freezing ice and sleet on Tuesday, said OPM Director John Berry in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

On Monday afternoon, OPM announced that D.C. area feds have the option to take unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework.

The D.C. region faces two storm systems this week. One that started Monday night that continues into Tuesday, and the other that starts Tuesday night and continues into Wednesday.

Berry said one of the lessons learned from last week's storm was the challenges of getting the word out about an operating status during the day when people are still at work. When announcements are made in the evening or nighttime, people are usually watching TV or listening to the radio. Berry said that OPM is "looking at other ways" to make sure feds are notified during the day.

Last week's two-hour early leave was supposed to lead to a staggered departure. Traffic, however, was still snarled and many blamed feds who left earlier.

"There's been a misunderstanding. People think we put everyone out at 3 p.m. But that wasn't the case," Berry said.

He added that he could have been more clear to federal employees by saying, "if you're waiting until you see snow, it's going to be too late."

Those who were telework-eligible could have left much earlier, Berry added.

"I made the announcement at 11 in the morning and if you were telework-eligible you could've left at 11. I got a lot of thank you letters last week from people who did just that," Berry said. "They watched the snowstorm out their window and enjoyed a glass of wine."

The weather gives feds an opportunity to bring up telework to their managers, Berry said.

"When we have challenging circumstances like this, telework is one mechanism that allows us to continue government operations and to continue services to the tax payers, as well as to keep our employees safe," Berry said. "It's a very important and very powerful tool. My hope is all the folks who had a headache last week and had a horrible commute can now come to their manager and say, We haven't talked about telework before. I want to talk about telework now," Berry said.

Eventually, the hope is that everyone who can telework does telework, he said.

"I look forward to the day when the snow day is a warm memory, but only that," Berry said.

Check the government operating status.