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Federal gov't. outlines plans for winter weather

By Ed O'Keefe

Federal employees have a higher chance of snow days or early dismissals this Winter season as the Washington region gears up for a colder than normal winter and a better chance of a big winter storms.

Government officials outlined the potential closing or early dismissal scenarios for the Washington region on Thursday at the Office of Personnel Management. Officials insisted they will do everything they can to announce closings by 4 a.m. on days with bad weather.

"I know that the commute for many people in our region, they start out from faraway places, that commutes have to start early, and I think one of the errors of the past is that we waited too long," OPM Director John Berry said at the meeting.

Though Berry makes the call on closing D.C.-area federal offices, federal executive boards do so in other parts of the country. The government loses roughly $100 million in productivity and opportunity costs each time it closes D.C.-area offices.

“It’s not an insignificant number. We do not make this decision lightly," Berry said.

The last time the federal government shut down D.C-area offices was in early 2003when a blizzard crippled the region for days.

This year, the Mid-Atlantic can expect a colder than normal winter and a higher likelihood of big winter storms thanks in part to El Nino, the weather phenomenon that warms the Gulf of Mexico and causes rainier Winters in southern parts of the U.S.

"That basically means we have more seeds for these big winter time blizzards to effect the Washignton region," said Christopher Strong, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service's Washington/Baltimore regional offices.

When bad weather strikes, OPM officials consult the weather forecasts and coordinate with officials at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Decisions might get made in time for late-night newscasts the night before, otherwise officials hold a conference call around 3:30 a.m. That first call is followed by another call with senior OPM staff around 3:50 a.m., at which point the OPM director can make a decision from one of five options:

1.) Keep the government open

2.) Grant unscheduled leave (or liberal leave) to employees

3.) Permit a delayed arrival within a specific time frame (usually no more than 2 hours)

4.) Permit a combination of unscheduled leave or delayed arrivals

5.) Close the Washington-area offices

President Obama, a former Chicago resident much more accustomed to the snow, has not expressed any concerns about closing offices unnecessarily for small amounts of bad weather.

"The president’s been very clear, make the decision based on public’s safety and on public safety alone," he said.

Incidentally, The Federal Eye will post OPM's decisions whenever they happen. Sign-up for e-mail alerts from The Eye to ensure you learn about closures or dismissals when they get made.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 3, 2009; 11:17 AM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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I'm always taken aback by the President's comments about the DC metro area's reaction to snow and ice. Chicago is pretty much flat. DC/MD/VA is hills, hills, hills. There is a difference. The roads become very dangerous very quickly because of the region's topography. I don't know what's so hard to get about that.

Posted by: dkinmd | December 3, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Isn't this why we have teleworking???

Preferably from Miami.

Posted by: WoodbridgeVa1 | December 3, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

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